Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Thai Experience

Being that he had insatiable intellectual curiosity, he voraciously tore into the internet. In his numerous internet wonderings he came across a certain blog that fascinated him and he began voicing his ideas in the comment section. People with similar curiosity began responding to his comments; the comment section became boisterous. A community was formed.

One of the members gave Thai the nickname “The Fractal Rabbit”. It pleased him greatly. He had a reputation for an obsession with fractals, hence the fractal part of the nickname. He also had a habit of letting his curiosity lead him into “rabbit holes” a la Alice in Wonderland. He would come across a new idea and dive into the internet rabbit hole with frenzied intention to learn all he could about the new subject. Therefore the rabbit part of his nickname. The rabbit part was also apt because he was FAST! He would encounter his new subject, study it ruthlessly, post his findings on the blog, and demand you consider its relationship to the universe. By the time you had started your first query into Google to try to catch up with him, he had already repeated the process with a different new exciting idea. And likely correlated the two and demanded that you consider that as well. You couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm for new ideas.

What was he searching for ultimately? I believe he wanted to make sense of the world and then fix it so people could be safe and happy. At least in the “big picture’ this seems to summarize what he was subconsciously driven by. In the more “normal daily life” perspective I think he just found it to be fun and fascinating ;)

Not being a religious guy, he couldn’t just adopt a preformed view of the world (in fact, when one blogger suggested it would be interesting to discuss the Old Testament he replied that “he’d rather stick his hand in a blender”. Tres amusant, no?). So this left him with the difficult job of crafting his own world view.

Physics. Chemistry. Evolutionary biology. Great, that set the stage of the universe and created the actors in it. The actors then did some really strange things for a couple hundred thousand years. Groups formed different systems of doing things. Politics. Economics.

Yet, there was something odd. In all these different areas he was seeing patterns. Whether driven by the laws of thermodynamics or the nature of humanity, these various systems were similar to each other in some way. He came across the concept of fractals and was entranced. This is what keeps happening!! Define the boundaries of a system, insert or remove energy, and the results are predictable. Every iteration that the system cycles will be similar to the previous and next iteration. Fractal self-similarity.

This fractal key became how he made sense of the world. So on to fixing the world to make people safe and happy. Humanity is a system like any other system. How to make it the best system it could be…..

If the members of a group were not cooperating there was a lot of misspent energy that could have been better used. If they cooperated all that energy could have been used forging ahead to a new layer of complexity (which is good- the library of a major university in 2010 is more complex than the three books some guy in a village 15 km away has in 1510). To cooperate requires rules. For people to follow rules they have to be perceived as fair. How do we determine what’s fair? How do our brains do that? Language seems critical to the process for humans. How do our brains know what language is? Down more rabbit holes!!!!

He didn’t get to finish the puzzle. I type that with terrible sadness. He was 43 years old. I’ll always wonder what he would have come up with if he had another 43 years to search and ponder. With every new scientific discovery I’ll think “Man, he would have gone ballistic on the blog over this!”. Bittersweet.

And it wouldn’t be right to not mention his life outside cyberspace. Both his mother and father had terrific adventures ( his mother was sent to Thailand by the Peace Corps so “Thai”) and were educated at UCLA which was also his alma mater. He met his wife when they were both still in school and he adored her for more than twenty years. She went with him all over while he finished medical school. He had some wild experiences working in Emergency Departments. He had four kids that he doted on tremendously. He read truckloads of fiction and non-fiction. He watched TED conferences online. He listened to NPR. His energy for learning was matched only by his energy for enjoying people.

How lucky I was to become his friend. You’ll be remembered fondly, Buddy


  1. In the midst of this great tragedy I have taken some time while struggling with my own health problems attempting to compose some words that convey what I feel. I knew Thai on these boards only a brief time and the words to describe what he offered in that period seem to be beyond my ability to write. The only thing I have to offer is my humble thanks to you Thai. You will be greatly missed and to me personally, a constant reminder that we must live life to the fullest each day and do our best to embrace one another in the spirit of cooperation you so earnestly preached.I will never forget that.

    Goodbye and thank you Thai. John

  2. 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.

  3. Due to character limits, I will post my words at his Memorial service in 2 parts.

    Part 1:

    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 in the first dance at Andover in Will Hall. 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.

    Continue to part 2...

  4. Part 2:

    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.

  5. I am Thai's Mom and I can only say what I always said to my friends. Every Mom wants a son like Thai

  6. thai's obituary.

    Helped create firm that staffs hospital ERs

    Thai McGreivy frequently volunteered.
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    Who's Blogging» Links to this article

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    Thai McGreivy, 43, a founding partner and chief financial officer for a medical group that runs the emergency rooms at several Washington area hospitals, died June 6 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He had a heart attack while bicycling on Memorial Day.

    Dr. McGreivy moved to the Washington area in the early 1990s for a residency in emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He and several colleagues founded Medical Emergency Professionals to run emergency rooms at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Germantown Emergency Center, Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown and the Western Maryland Health System in Cumberland.

    The company oversaw the emergency room treatment of 300,000 patients each year and was praised for improving patient satisfaction.

    As a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue team, Dr. McGreivy was among a team of doctors who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

    Martin Stewart McGreivy was born in Laguna Beach, Calif., and graduated in 1984 from the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. His nickname came from Thailand, where his parents had met when his mother was in the Peace Corps and his father was backpacking around the world.

    In 1988, he received a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He graduated from the medical school at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1992.

    Dr. McGreivy volunteered his medical services at a Montgomery County clinic and coached his son's soccer team. He was a member of the Edgemoor Club in Bethesda and founded a social organization for men in his Bethesda neighborhood.

    He was a frequent contributor to several blogs on topics such as finance and the national debt. He had recently bought a motorboat to use in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

    Survivors include his wife of 17 years, Katherine Bradley McGreivy, and their four sons, Nicholas McGreivy, Luke McGreivy, Kyle McGreivy and James McGreivy, all of Bethesda; his mother, Susan McGreivy of Ithaca, N.Y.; and a brother.

  7. Posting a comment about a brother that you loved so dearly is not an easy thing. All I can really say about Thai is that he was the best brother a guy could ever ask for. His love was constant, his friendship enduring. He was a ballast, a stabilizing force in my life. I do miss him dearly. I was lucky to be so close to him for such extended periods of my life. We were roommates for a year when we were undergrads at U.C. Berkeley. I was fortunate to live near Thai and his family for 6 years when I was doing my medical training in Washington DC. We shared a lot. We are both physicians, this brought us closer. He was a fantastic doctor. If there was a patient where everyone was scratching their heads, I invariably would call Thai just to get his thoughts. He was a great father, I frequently marveled at his patience with his children. He was a great friend, I cannot remember a time in my life where I needed him and he was not there. His spirit still lives within me and I will do my best to keep it alive and pass it on to my children and to his children.