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Captain Phillips points for life work, even on dry land

April 4, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
Capt. Phillips, your way works.

I took to heart three repeated tenets of the philosophy of the ocean captain who survived being taken hostage by Somali pirates that he emphasized throughout the recounting of his tale Thursday evening.

Phillips, a most-personable gent with a deep New England accent (he says it’s all Boston, where he grew up, though he lives in Vermont), was in Steubenville to speak at Steubenville High School as part of the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Speaker Series.

The tenets that got him through his ordeal in April 2009, he figures are:

1. You are stronger than you think.

2. Never give up.

3. A well-trained professional team can overcome any obstacle.

During his multiple-day ordeal, he dealt with multiple mock executions by the pirates, the feeling that he didn’t want his wife to think, if he died, about her not accompanying him into the airport on his departure for his journey to the ship. Normally, she always accompanies him into the airport to say goodbye. He stayed calm, and he said a little faith goes a long way toward keeping one calm when one is working not to give up. And the well-trained team theory was proven by the Navy SEALs who saved him.

Throughout the tale, he spun in some great humor, making the audience smile and laugh out loud.

And he struck me as just a lunch-bucket guy, the kind of a man who preferred the relative anonymity of being a sea captain that he enjoyed before he became the famous Capt. Phillips.

During all-too-brief one-on-one time, he said while his anonymity is pretty much lost, it’s getting a little better with time (though surely every time the major news networks call when another incident of piracy comes up cannot help ease his fame away).

He credited his wife and family for handling themselves when dealing with their concurrent hostage crisis: At the hands of the national media. He said on the first day word had come that the Maersk Alabama had been taken by pirates, his wife had met with local reporters in the Phillips home. That ended when the satellite trucks arrived and camped out and tried to sneak in.

He didn’t know if anyone outside of his ship and the Navy cruiser Bainbridge that had come to negotiate his release knew of his predicament. He said while keeping his cool, he tried never to become the complacent hostage the pirates wanted. When he could, he played mind games back at them.

“As long as you don’t give up, you still have a chance,” he said.

It works. Today was one of those days on the news desk, a tight newspaper, a lot of news to fit into it and the deadline looming where it always does. It felt impossible to make it. I kept thinking of Phillips three tenets when I wanted to whine and abandon all hope of hitting deadline. It worked. I whined less than I have in a decade, and we made deadline as a team. No time wasted whining or assuming we couldn't make it.

I’m keeping those three statements close to my heart from now on.

The Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series adds a touch of elegance, education and class to the community, that is not about, as it was said to me by an audience participant, sports or arguing.

As such, I figure it’s a periodic event for the good. And it can change people.

Thanks, Captain. You're a class guy.


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