Sam was a large man who dressed flamboyantly and wore an oversize Rolex and ornate sunglasses. A friend who heard of his plan to help poor students develop commercial skills introduced us. He requested that I help Sam.

Sam needed assistance with the project’s technical aspects. I told him I was quite busy but would be glad to see him during the weekend.

He turned up Saturday in my home at six in the morning and woke me up. Annoyed, but impressed by his enthusiasm, I told him I had studied the papers and concluded that, though well-intentioned, the project design was inept and needed a complete overhaul. Not the least daunted, he asked who could fix it. No name came readily to mind. He urged me to join him and redesign the whole project. I had misgivings about a partner so different in style or personality but agreed reluctantly.

What followed was a whirlwind of activity. Any idea I broached, Sam would convert immediately into a huge set of activities, all pursued with unrelenting vigour. No point telling him something needed to be reworked; he would instantly press ahead with any half-baked notion I broached. No matter if the idea proved wrong or impractical; he would glowingly tell me of the new pointers he had gained from discussing it with government officials.

My work hours were long, but he knew when to turn up in my office just as it was closing and suggest a cocktail, or to ingeniously gain entry into a party he knew I would attend. With Sam around, there could be no discussion that did not turn soon to his project. He would find a way to involve everyone and pump the unlikeliest person for ideas. The puzzling part was he did pick up new ideas and found new friends to help.

Speed was his hallmark. He was the only person I knew who carried official stationery in his briefcase, and, if a written request was needed, produced it instantly – handwritten. If a form demanded statistics, he would concoct the best he could muster on the spot and later send a letter of correction. What could be done the next week or month, he wanted done that very day, in fact immediately, and would gladly run to the end of town to do it. “Now is the best time,” was his favorite phrase.

I gave up complaining of his hasty commitments and ill-phrased letters, much as I realized the futility of suggesting that we think through a problem before we rush into action. Sam would act before I could blink, and the only way was to anticipate a strategy or instantly devise one.

Our project took off earlier than expected and produced results better than our fondest hopes. His astounding drive had partly infected our staff and associates. I knew it well, because I had begun waking up at night with new ideas. That added to Sam’s enthusiasm and his determination to accomplish everything at lightning pace. He would gulp his drink, smoke through his cigarette in record time and rush to the next meeting with a briefcase loaded with talking points.

Doctors started warning him of telltale signs. I counseled caution and snatched the perennial cigarette from his lips. Friends urged him to settle down and enjoy the striking success of our project. But Sam dreamed of building a new office, getting new staff and enlarging the project tenfold.

I was accidentally at the project office window one afternoon when I observed the strange arc of Sam’s car as he dashed typically to another downtown appointment. Sam was an excellent driver, and that reckless curve was bizarre. I rushed out and found the car stalled on the sidewalk, Sam’s large frame sprawled on the steering wheel, motionless. Ominously, even the Rolex on his drooping wrist was still. My best friend, always in a hurry, had finally slowed down.

 

The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]