Excitement, gratitude and pride characterized the atmosphere at the Business Journal’s Top Valley Human Resources Professionals Awards luncheon last week at the Sheraton Universal. But for a moment, as the first-ever Joyce McNeely Award for Excellence in Employee Relations was introduced, reverence, solace, and wistful remembrance took over in the Grand Ballroom. Joyce McNeely (July 9, 1952-November 17, 2008) was Galpin Motors’ director of human resources through most of the 1990s and into 2008, a time of exponential growth for the company. By all accounts, she was an extraordinary H.R. professional. “This is a very special award,” said Brad Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin. ” Named in honor of a very special lady.” With McNeely’s son Patrick and husband Rich standing behind him, and his father, Galpin president, Bert Boeckmann at his side, Brad Boeckmann said there were no words to describe the kind of human being the award’s namesake was. But behind the legend of Joyce McNeely was a woman who had a job to do, a job done by tens of thousands of men and women across the country every day who rarely get much recognition outside their own organizations. Of course McNeely did all of the usual things one would expect of someone in her position: She led recruiting efforts; she sifted through stacks of resumes; hired people; counseled employees, and even reprimanded them from time to time (albeit, in a manner Brad Boeckmann, described as “Joyce’s Way”). Occasionally, McNeely had the unpleasant duty of terminating an employee. But that was a task Boeckmann said she sometimes followed up with some quiet assistance to the terminated employee’s family. Stories such as those led the Business Journal’s publisher, Pegi Matsuda and editor, Jason Schaff, to create the award in McNeely’s memory. “I didn’t have any idea I was the winner until it was announced,” said Armine Muradyan, human resources director at REM Eyewear in Sun Valley, the award’s first recipient. “I didn’t know who Joyce McNeely was until I read a little bit about her in the program, and after doing so, I had no words to say; it’s just overwhelming and wonderful to be associated with her this way.” Muradyan added that awards for H.R. directors rarely come outside the tight-knit field of the practice’s own professional organizations or the firms where they work. “We work so hard for all those years,” she said. “And all that work being noticed by someone is really special.” Bert Boeckmann remembers McNeely, who succumbed last November after a long battle with cancer, as a person he could rely on to tell with candor what she really thought about an issue. Once in a while, her perspective or opinion would be different than his and others. “She was a spectacular employee with a great work ethic,” Burt Boeckmann told the Business Journal. “She was compassionate, but very logical. I appreciate the kind of employee who, even though it might be difficult, will give their employer an opinion on a policy or an issue when it’s different than your own.” That, he said, was Joyce NcNeely. But 16 years ago, when she was brought on board at Galpin, Brad Boeckmann was not sure his father’s company needed a dedicated human resource director,a notion he muses over looking back at McNeely’s contributions throughout the years. “We just had our best year ever in terms of workers’ comp. costs,” he said. “A fact, which I know is attributable, to a great extent, to Joyce’s efforts on our safety team.” Brad Boeckmann’s early dubiousness about Galpin’s need for an H.R. director melted away as McNeely’s impact on the company became apparent. So did the hearts of what seems to be everyone with whom she came into contact. As the human resource director, that was just about everyone at Galpin. “She was more than just a colleague; she was my friend,” the younger Boeckmann said. “And I still miss her tremendously.” Boeckmann described McNeely as a “fiery redhead” who could be “kind of a tough schoolmarm,” as well as a tender confidant. “It didn’t matter if you were a porter or a top executive,” he said. “She expected you to do your job and do it well. If you didn’t, she would take you to task, but then gently take you by the hand and into the solution that would help you do your job better than you thought you could.” Brad Boeckmann recalls the one time he was disappointed with McNeely’s performance. “She was tough and tender,” he said. “She always came in early,like 6:30 a.m. early,and she stayed late.” After the 1994 earthquake, most of Galpin’s core staff came into work to deal with the major damage the dealership suffered. McNeely was noticeably absent. “When she came back a few days later, I may have given signs that I was not pleased,” Boeckmann said. “But then she came into my office furious with me.” That was when he realized McNeely thought of him as a close friend. “She said, ‘you know me Brad.’ You should have known how scared I must have been not to come in. You should have sent someone to check on me.'” Boeckmann said he knew in the fiber of his being she was right. As far as he knows today, cancer never scared her the way the Northridge Earthquake did, for her attendance record even through ten years of living with the disease was impeccable. A core principal of the Society of Human Resource Management says “As human resource professionals, we are ethically responsible for promoting and fostering fairness and justice for all employees and their organizations.” Both Bert Boeckmann and son Brad say the secret to McNeely’s success as a human resource manager was adherence to her own core principals, which whether consciously or intuitively, were the personification of the aforementioned SHRM code. “We found out that she had helped employees over the years with challenges of a deeply personal nature as well as professional issues,” Brad Boeckmann said. “This is a family company in every sense of the word. It was always that way. But somehow Joyce made it even more so.” Armine Muradyan hopes the award endures, and that future winners will indeed reflect the aspect of H.R. work that she and Joyce McNeely held as the profession’s highest calling. “It’s about your relationship with the employees,” Muradyan said. “I hope future winners will be somebody who has a people personality and knows that customer service is for employees too.” According to those who knew her, Joyce McNeely thought of her job as a customer service position too. Her customers were the people of the company she worked for, which she thought of as her family.