Tribute to Mickey Samson | Tom Wilson
Few people are blessed with the opportunity to see the work of a true visionary. And before meeting Mickey and seeing his ideas in action, I would never have imagined that one person could affect positive change on such a dazzlingly diverse scale. After spending a mere few hours with the man, however, I believe that I witnessed greatness, and feel truly fortunate for the experience. Never before have I met such a creative force in solving and preventing problems in the developing world. Nor have I seen a person able to not only envision the most brilliant of solutions, but also make each one a reality. What I will remember most, though, is not simply what he accomplished, but the way in which he did it. The visits to RDIC are some of my greatest memories from the PEPY trips, and I am truly sad to learn about his death. I will remember him fondly, and will strive to follow the example of such a brilliant and compassionate man.
To be sure, Mickey was an exceptional scientist,
but to stop there would fail to even scratch the surface of his unique gifts. More astonishing to me was his ability to find elegant, multi-faceted, and remarkably simple solutions to a vast range of issues. Never content to look at a problem in isolation, he understood that interconnected problems in a developing country require their solutions to be equally holistic. And, perhaps more importantly, he understood that he would be unable to affect real change if only his fellow gifted scientists could understand his ideas. So he created projects that anyone could grasp; 5 year olds, donors, hapless liberal arts trained volunteers – he made us all understand needs and solutions that in less gifted hands might have seemed overwhelmingly complex. I can’t count how many times my jaw dropped or my hand slapped my forehead as I was struck by the simplicity and sophistication of a Mickey project. And no sooner would I wrap my head around one idea than he would astound me with another.
There are many brilliant scientists, but Mickey was one of very few who could rightly be called a genius.
Mickey inspired me most, however, by the manner in which he lived. No one has better embodied the idea of being the change you want to see in the world. He was never content to let somebody else tackle difficult challenges. He chose to see each new problem as an opportunity to think creatively, rather than a reason to lose heart. He learned as much from the few projects that didn’t quite work as he learned from the ones that did. He was incredibly humble, especially for such an accomplished man. He knew where his talents lay, and was determined to put them to use. He never complained about limited resources, but simply used his resources more effectively. He had powerfully religious convictions, but expressed them through his work rather than through proselytizing; for all the negative news we hear daily that stems directly or indirectly from religious conflict, we can
always point to Mickey as embodying the very best religious ideals. He and his wife chose to give up a life a relative comfort in the U.S. in order to better understand and better serve the people they wanted to help. I am amazed that one person could combine such powerful intellect and creativity with such unparalleled humanity.
I am deeply saddened to hear about Mickey’s passing. My heart goes out to his wonderful family; I can’t imagine the loss they must feel. I am sad also for the entire country of Cambodia. It hurts to imagine all the great Mickey might have accomplished there with more time. It seems terribly unfair to his family and the Cambodian people that so valuable a mind and heart would be taken so young. I feel an enormous sense of loss today. The world was a better place with Mickey in it.
But I am also encouraged by his legacy, which has certainly not passed with him. I think about all the children who will grow up healthy and families who will
stabilize because of his filters, wells, TV and karaoke programs, farming techniques, and countless other projects. I think about the young men and women who will return to Cambodia with advanced degrees, ready to take on the challenges of their own country and their own people, who had that opportunity because of Mickey. I think about all the interns, students, and volunteers he has touched. We want to Be Like Mick. He has done more with his far too few years than most people could do in many lifetimes.
So what can I do to honor a man who I knew so briefly, yet who touched me and many others so deeply? Though I will never be able to match his mind, his science, or his creativity, I think it is my responsibility to learn from the lessons he taught. A few things I can do (surely this list is woefully incomplete):
* I can be kind, compassionate, and humble.
* I can find my strengths, and use them to affect positive change.
* I can tackle the world’s problems myself,
rather than hoping somebody else will.
* I can find opportunity rather than discouragement when faced with a problem.
* I can challenge myself to think creatively and holistically, and to use resources effectively.
* I can be thankful for what I have, and try to help others who have less.
* I can learn not only from my successes, but from times when I have been unsuccessful.
* I can try to inspire others by my example.
It is a lot to live up to, but Mickey proved that exemplifying these qualities is possible. I am glad for the opportunity to remember that, and hope that by trying to follow in his footsteps, we all are able to find our own silver linings in such a tragic event. Thanks to PEPY for introducing us to Mickey, thanks to his family for supporting him in his work, and thanks mostly to the man himself for being a true hero.
Thank you Mickey, you will be missed
p.s. I found a smattering of quotes from Einstein that, for me at least, help illustrate the
life Mickey led. Maybe only a genius can succinctly explain a genius:
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.
Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.
Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.
If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t fully understand it yourself.
Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.