A decade ago

On the 26th of December 2004 I was awoken by a phone call from a colleague. He asked me if I had heard about the tsunami. I switched the wireless on and then the TV. I was 2 days from leaving Bishop’s Stortford to return to Hong Kong. My house had been ransacked by removal guys and I was sleeping in a sleeping-bag on a mattress. After that the only time I was not hearing about the tsunami was when I boarded the ‘plane back to HK.

I checked into The Mandarin Oriental and walked over to my new office. My equally new secretary greeted me warmly and with ruthless efficiency. One of my direct reports had been in Thailand and was in hospital. His leg had been cut in the shock waves and soon they were contemplating amputating it. Happily that never happened. One of my two-downs was missing, presumed drowned along with her husband. They were never found. She had worked late on Christmas Eve, flown to Thailand on Christmas Day and she and her husband were eating breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, freshly arrived for a well-deserved break. In my first month this was my biggest task. Dealing with her loss, communicating with relatives in Canada, making sure HR dealt with the case in a sympathetic and pragmatic manner, arrangements for a memorial service……… I had the parents flown in at the bank’s expense. I didn’t seek permission. It would have been churlish not to support them at this time but I was confident there would be a policy against it somewhere. Better not to ask.

A long way from being responsible from workouts and recoveries, globally, just down-to-earth, management of a far from down-to-earth situation. My secretary was superb. Just did things unquestioningly and ignored all protocols, just the way I did.

My colleague with the infected leg was flown back to England. I kept in touch with his sister all the time. He continued to go down hill. Then he was transferred to a specialist tropical diseases unit. Within 48 hours he had been properly diagnosed, the threat of losing his leg had gone and he made a full recovery.

And the secretary…. what became of her? Well she became Mrs. Ha and on the 29th December 2014 it will be ten years to the day since we met. A day we shall never forget.

29 thoughts on “A decade ago

  1. Bittersweet. I always think of this tragedy as being something long way away, but it really brought it home when you described it in terms of being a normal break, just eating breakfast… things we all do and look forward to in our own lives.

  2. Oh my what a horrific way to begin the day and have those moments imprinted into your mind. You treated the relatives of the victims as you should have- with dignity and grace. It’s good to know that the British guy’s leg healed. Bravo for smart physicians and great medicine.

    It was a bad day and a good day all rolled into one. Happy ten years of a partnership that was meant to be with Mrs. Ha.

  3. I was SO glad for the happy ending–though could you work together after getting married?–after the sobering details of the many losses.
    And you were so right to act out of concern and compassion rather than ask for permission.

  4. What an amazing post, everything landing on your desk simultaneously, decisions outside any work you might have expected. When you say bank, do you happen to mean HSBC (with whom we have a lengthy association)?

    • No Hilary. I was with Standard Chartered until 2011. It was an amazing few weeks so outside the norm. We do bank with HSBC in Britain. I see David Eldon occasionally in the club but don’t know him well. I mer Gulliver a couple of times and ii’ve spoken on the phone with Douglas Flint. Its a good institution as is SCB. Rivals hopefully with respect.

      • SCB is indeed a good institution and familiar to us. My husband was archivist to HSBC (and Midland before). He is a business historian and has been part of several banking history projects. Although retired he is on the committee related to the forthcoming history of HSBC ‘The Lion Wakes’ and knows or has known all the guys you mentioned.

      • Not personally, and Edwin keeps hoping that blogs are just a figment of my imagination.
        I’m continually amazed by the world reach of that Tsunami and it says a lot for humanity that you and many others changed gear completely in the middle of your daily life and helped in whatever way you could. The BBC has been showing some heartwarming updates, but the fallout will last many generations.

  5. What a story of tragedy and a relationship that flourished into a lifelong partnership.
    Good of you too, knowing better than to expect a corporation to have a heart…..even a corporate person.
    Happy upcoming anniversary.

    • Thank you, Bruce. It seemed easy at the time. I think it is in the way one is nurtured. If I learned to do the right thing it was from my parents, beyond doubt.

  6. I remember reading about the tsunami in the winter darkness of Kodiak, Alaska, a town which has its own tsunami warning system and tests it every Wednesday. Striking story, Andrew! Happy anniversary!

  7. That’s a very powerful story, Andrew … and a dramatic introduction to a new home and new job … not to mention new partner 🙂 Congratulations on your 10th anniversary.

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