Many people live an exemplary life by contributing positively to the world around them, making their communities better places to live.

Often their good works go unrecognized because they don't seek recognition. There's an old Navajo custom that when you help someone else, you wear a mask so that person doesn't know your identity. In that way the person does not think they have an obligation to do something in return. We do the right things because that's what we should do in life.

One such person was Hazel Thompson, who entered Heaven on May 20. She and I worked together in Lompoc Unified School District for four years.

It would be a mistake to refer to Hazel's position at the district as executive secretary to the superintendent. She was much more than that. She was one of the most ethical people I have ever met, besides being smart, intuitive, congenial, kind and respectful of others. I could never have done my job without her and I suspect other Lompoc superintendents and all the school board members with whom she worked would say the same thing.

Over the years she used her many talents and skills to improve the quality of education for the many teachers, administrators, parents,and support staff in Lompoc Unified. Behind the scenes, she helped them do what was necessary to support the success of Lompoc students in school and life.

Those of us who knew her quickly came to appreciate how well she did her work and what a truly valuable colleague she was. In a very real way she exemplified the contributions that many classified staff members — the people behind the scenes — make on a daily basis to provide a high-quality education for all students.

Her sense of humor helped get me through many a challenging day. One day, as she was getting used to this new technology called "word processing,” she prepared a letter addressed from me to our state representative, Eric Seastrand. The spell-correct kicked in and out came “Eric Sweatband.” I think it took her the rest of the day to stop laughing after she caught the error before it went out.

On another day I managed to bang my head on something and started bleeding. She rushed in saying, "Now, what did you do?" and quickly became Nurse Hazel and mended the wound.

Over my years as superintendent she consistently helped guide me in a good direction, smoothed many troubled waters, and even was a bit of a Jiminy Cricket, serving as a conscience when difficult decisions were required.

I know her spiritual life was very important to her and her husband, and she gave back so much through her church. She loved camping and visiting different places. Wherever she went and whatever she did, she quickly earned the respect of those who came in contact with her.

Hazel, we will all miss you a whole bunch. You are leaving a big void. The world needs more like you. Rest in peace.

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Jim Brown was the superintendent of schools for Lompoc Unified School District from 1985-1989.