Saturday, June 19, 2010

Memories of a Teenage Thai

Thanks for setting up this site. I attended Thai's memorial service yesterday. It was just a beautiful ceremony. Very emotional, yet a wonderful celebration of the life of a very special man. So much planning went into it by so many people (I had nothing to do with it. Just showed up 10 minutes before the event). It was attended by what seemed to be hundreds of people. The entire Bethesda Theater was filled. The community that he and his family lived in really stepped up to support the family.

As one of his childhood friends, I was asked to say a few words. Katherine asked me to post my speech to this site. I will do so in the next comment. As background, I met Thai at boarding school 29 years ago. We also worked at the same job, the summer after our Freshman year in college, working for CalPIRG in Los Angeles. There was a great group of idealistic kids working to pass the bottle bill in California.

Each of us went knocking on the doors of thousands of strangers' homes that summer asking for money (political donations, for which we got paid a commission) and letters in support of the bill. Probably got turned down 90%+ of the time. Sometimes doors slammed in our faces or we were threatened with guns or dogs. But there were also wonderful people who invited us in out of the hot sun for a cup of ice tea or milk & cookies while they were getting out their checkbooks. Thai was persistent. Kept going and going. That's the way he was his whole life. We went out just about every night that summer and did trips to Joshua Tree and other camping areas in SoCal. It was a summer to remember.

My last dinner with Thai (and Katherine) was on May 4, less than a month before his heart attack. My family was in the DC area for my wife's 25th high school reunion so it was just a fluke that we got to see each other. It's surreal that he's gone. He will be missed by so many people. Most of all, by his family.

I'd like to start by reading something I wrote to Thai on his Facebook Wall.
"Goodbye my friend. We cried for you but we will try to be strong. I still have this vivid image of you dancing...gettin' down low to Rock Lobster almost 30 years ago at Will Hall in Andover. Dark background. Strobe lights flashing. You were this cool dude from SoCal. I also have this mental image of you with a smile on your face, wind blowing through your hair...taking your shiny new boat out for a spin. You were so proud of your latest toy; bought on eBay, sight unseen. After the last dinner we had together...I remember thinking that we would have so many more chances to catch up and reminisce...until we were old farts. Not to be. But I will always have the memories. Thanks for being such a good friend and for always being your unique self."
I just love that Rock Lobster image of Thai. He was Nick’s age, about to turn 15 during our first Fall at Andover.
It's funny how the mind works. Of all the parties, dances and songs in my life, I remember so clearly the one with Thai.
Thai always made an impression because he was unique.
There was a saying that some of his friends used at Andover. He would do something - sometimes silly, sometimes a bit shocking - and the story would get told - and we would all just say "that is so Thai."
It was fun to hang out with him because he was up for anything; always ready for a new adventure.
Thai was never too old or too macho to cry, to hug or to kiss. He had that inner strength to allow himself be vulnerable. He was willing to put himself out there and willing to open up the possibility of rejection, pain or failure.
He was charming, especially to older people and to all parents. He was always social. But it was only recently that I learned about his blogging and online social activities.
One of his blogging buddies wrote that he could be infuriating. But his sincerity and charm were obvious, even to those who had never met him face to face.
Sometimes, it felt as though we never agreed on anything because he was a skeptic. He didn't blindly accept other people's ideas. He had his own opinions and he was willing to defend his position to the end.
Thai may have been skeptical, but he was no cynic. He believed in ideas - often very passionately, he believed in himself and he believed in people. He may not have been religious, but he was a man of faith.
Thai had faith most of all in the people he loved. Growing up, he was so close to his parents and to his brother Jesse that it definitely made an impression on me.
I also remember visiting Thai in LA, 20 years ago, not long after he met Katherine. I knew he was a goner. She was quite the catch and he knew it.
So I was not surprised to see them get married; what was surprising, however, were the four boys and that crazy remodeling project!
Through life's ups and downs, Thai's devotion to Katherine and the life they were building together grew even stronger.
During our last dinner together, he was looking forward to their next phase of parenthood - the teenage years. My wife observed that he seemed fascinated by the intellectual challenge of it.
He loved his boys. He loved how unique they were and loved talking about each of them. His eyes lit up that night talking his boys; we talked for hours.
Over this past week, I've been trying to make some sense of what’s happened and wondered what he might have wanted me say to his beloved boys.
I think that Thai might say to Nick, Luke & Kyle, and James - there are many things in life that are beyond your control but what will define you are the choices that you make.
Your father chose to be adventurous;
he chose to be curious;
he chose to be an independent thinker;
he chose to be passionate and to pursue his passions;
to be vulnerable;
to be honest; and
to be loving and kind.
I know that he had faith in you. If he were alive, he would very much want you to make your own choices; but I hope that as you grow up, you’ll learn to appreciate the choices that he made and the life he led.
I'll end with one last story. During dinner at one point, he blurted out, pointing his finger at me, "you're a Facebook whore!"
Of the 877 so called "friends" I have on Facebook, he is the only person who would say such a thing. That was so Thai!
He was right, of course. He was always honest.
Any of us would be lucky to know just a handful of special people that we can call a true friend.
Thai was such a person.
I will miss him; and I will always remember him.

(e-mail from Ho Nam)


  1. "Thai may have been skeptical, but he was no cynic. He believed in ideas - often very passionately, he believed in himself and he believed in people. He may not have been religious, but he was a man of faith."

    This is a great observation! When he criticized bad ideas, it wasn't because he wanted to be snarky. The idea just needed to be disposed of so that it could be replaced with a good idea ;) The goal was always to be the world a better place. He was a kind skeptic which can be difficult to get across to people, but he did it with grace.

  2. Thai had that curious, questioning mind of a which leads to trying things out, experiment, learn from mistakes and failure. It's the ideal mind of a scientist, which he was, and he never lost that quality. It's also, the ideal mind of an investor. Charlie Munger marveled last year how Warren Buffet was still learning and getting better at the age of 78 (and Buffet was already the best that he had ever met more than 50 years ago). Thai had such a mind and it would have been amazing to see him grow for another 50 years. I think he got that quality from his beloved dad, who was a physicist as well as successful businessman and entrepreneur. He was recommending stocks and making investments in startups to the end. I just spoke to a good Andover friend who talked about Sandisk, a huge winner which he missed (recommended by Thai's dad, who knew the science and the founders, and then by Thai to some of his friends).