Only a few weeks ago many of us traveled to Maastricht for Roel’s 60th birthday. It was a warm and sunny spring day and Roel, while weak from his second chemo treatment, was visibly very much enjoying the company of family, friends and colleagues.
We all knew that Roel was seriously ill, and that he had been close to death in September 2016. We witnessed his strong will to live and how he remained forward-looking. As a result, his death came as a shock. We wish to express to Roel’s family, especially his three amazing daughters, our deep sadness of losing Roel, and how much he both contributed to and meant to our collective.
Roel had been with Corporate Europe Observatory as bookkeeper and financial administrator since early 2006. Those of us who founded CEO already knew him from the mid 1990s, when we were active in A SEED Europe and Roel was bookkeeper at EYFA, the European Youth Forest Action, which had an office in the same old school building in Amsterdam. We also regularly met Roel at international actions and gatherings across Europe, as he was a member of the Rampenplan mobile kitchen collective.
When Roel became our bookkeeper in 2006, he completely reorganised and professionalised our financial administration, something which was long overdue by that time. In 2005, while still being based in Amsterdam, CEO had started to grow beyond the initial team of founders.
Looking back, Roel was instrumental in facilitating the growth of CEO, and helping us to become the thriving organisation we are today. He smoothly managed the increasing complexity of the financial and wage administration in the years after the office move from Amsterdam to Brussels in 2008 and the growth of CEO to 15+ staff, working in six different jurisdictions. Roel also played an important role in creating good terms of employment for all staff.
Roel loved his work and the contact with colleagues. After his illness had forced him to quit work for several months in the autumn of 2016, he sent us an email with the subject line “I would like to start working”. He wrote:
Last week I talked with Erik and we agreed that I would try to start working again. My health and my energy is going up in high speed. I need still a lot of time and energy for [private matters]. But I expect that I can work for one day (8 hours) per week.
I do not want to prolong my inactivity, if this is not necessary. I would like to meet people, to be able to concentrate on more positive subjects and to be part of society again.”
He kept recovering and soon he was working his normal hours again. During the time of his absence it became clear what a crucial role Roel played in CEO and what a vast organisational knowledge he had developed. In a way that makes him irreplaceable.
Roel would always meticulously check every payment or reimbursement form. Sometimes he went beyond mere technical controls, as Kenneth recounted at Roel’s 60th birthday party. A few years ago Roel had written to Kenneth that, given the amount of air miles Kenneth had made on behalf of CEO, the least he could do was plant a tree at Copenhagen airport. Now, several years later, at Roel’s birthday party, Kenneth brought a picture of the cherry tree that he planted this Spring close to the runway of Kastrup airport.
As the motto on Roel’s funeral card says very appropriately
He walked his own way
self-willed and determined
That’s how he also walked in CEO and we will miss his way of walking with us.