Posted in this&that

Friends don’t let friends write reference letters

In a mad flurry of Spring cleaning, I’ve been working on files. I like to clean them out once a year just to see what I’ve saved, and, pitifully, and add to it. Which, I suppose doesn’t really qualify as cleaning them out, does it? Alas. I try.

Not Wally, but close

Saturday I came across a letter a friend of mine, Wally, wrote for me, a letter of recommendation for a job. Wally joined a work team I supervised, right out of college and has remained a friend throughout the years.

I thought I’d share his letter — it’s the perfect way to start another week.


To Whom It May Concern:

When Emma Bauer asked me to write a recommendation for her, I thought she was kidding. There had to be at least two or three dozen others with job titles fancier than any I’d ever possessed who’d stand in line outside in a blizzard to volunteer, but she asked me. To say that I was honored doesn’t quite cover it.

When I look back on the various jobs I’ve held in my life, few were as pleasurable as my time spent at the Center for Human Services at University Extension, University of California, Davis. Most of this has to do with Emma Bauer. The job itself was just a job, but working with Emma made it something to look forward to. It’s not just that she’s easy to work with and exceptionally capable, but that she gave me the opportunity to fail. As a supervisee, I could ask for nothing more. Without her gentle guidance, I never would have moved up through the ranks, ultimately joining her as a supervisor.

Emma sent me a copy of the job description for this position. Eighty percent of it could be handled by a moderately trained Capuchin. What you really want to know in this letter is what kind of person is Emma. What will it be like working for, with, or supervising her? Does she play well with others? Is she competent? Is she gonna turn out to be that crazy lady who wears inappropriate sweaters and tries to have meaningful conversations with the water cooler?

If you asked me to pick two or three people from my past to work with, in any capacity, Emma’s name would be at the top. That’s not hyperbole; that’s just the way it is. I’ve worked for her, and I’ve worked alongside her. No one is more committed, more loyal, or more enthusiastic about what they do. Emma was not just a valued coworker, but a friend I have kept through thirteen years and moves to two different time zones.

This is not Wally either, but is how I envision his carrier pigeon looking.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Seriously. Call me. E-mail me. Send a carrier pigeon that responds to the name Oliver. For Emma, I’d gladly deal with a pigeon and all that comes with it.

Sincerely, Wally”


His letter made me laugh out loud, as Wally always does. I should have known to expect this kind of letter!

He’s the guy who dressed as “Captain Chaos” when our entire office (equipment, files, desk, people, everything) was moving across the street to new digs and staff was responsible for moving all their own paperwork. At the time that was massive for our team because we had enough printed booklets to serve over 4,000 participants in classes given all over California, and in three languages for four different class = tons of stuff.

Also not Wally. He wore much less clothing.

We had our typical fun that day, with cart races all around the parking lot. (No wonder he thought I was a great supervisor.) And, Wally had fun running around in a mask and red cape, shouting, “Captain Chaos to the rescue!”

Wally also once dressed as Lola, prancing around to “Copacabana” in a staff talent show (he won). And, less famously, he planned a field trip for some of the staff to the campus “meat locker” — a vomit inducing event for many of them. Literally. UCD has a well-known ag school (the team name is the “aggies”) and raises all kinds of animals, from conception to death. Unfortunately, the meat locker process is part of the deal for some of them.

All that said, Wally remains one of my best friends. He’s a fellow writer and is in the process of having his first book published. It’s the first in a young adult series of crime/mystery stories that stars a smart-ass college kid who always wear shorts, no matter the weather. Hmm. Sounds very much like Wally himself. In fact, exactly.

Needless to say, I didn’t use the letter. I also didn’t get the job. In hindsight, maybe I should have used the letter.



I'm a writer making my way through life and offering observations as I go. Old enough to know better but that doesn't stop me.

5 thoughts on “Friends don’t let friends write reference letters

  1. What a great letter! I bet it would have made a real impression, but the fact that you got to keep it is even better. If I had a letter like that, I would keep it in my wallet so I could pull it out and read it on tough days at the office. I would read it until it deteriorated to dust.

    Thank you for sharing that! He sounds like a pretty cool person to work with, too.

  2. Actually, he was a knucklehead! Every office need one! He was so much fun to work with and was really great at the job as well. And, I do cherish the letter–for the nice things it says as well well the good memories and snarky humor! Wally is a keeper.

    1. You and me, both….we had a bet over who could get published first, neither of us really expecting to be. Well, maybe Wally always knew. Anyway, I lost. I can’t even mention here what I have to do because I lost!

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