Remembering Sam

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There are a few things that would make one feel truly like a grown-up – paying for your own property, sex, having children and going for funerals, especially if the deceased is not a family member yet you go anyway.

I’m not sure how to behave at funerals. The few that I have been to were of grandparents and elderly relatives… do I have a heart of stone for not feeling enough grief? It was their time to go and I wasn’t very close to them. There were no tears to be shed. I did feel sad at their passing, but it was more of a sobering thought than heart-wrenching pain. My concern is more for the living. I don’t pray much but I would make it a point to offer at least a decade of the rosary for the deceased and for God to give strength to the family.

Last December, I found out from Facebook that an ex-colleague had died on Christmas eve due to heart complications. We had lost touch over the years but I still remember him from three agencies ago. We were not best buds but he was nice to me and I enjoyed his company. He was my senior, in profession and age –  a difference of 17 years. We met at Bates where he was a DM writer at Bates 141. I was with Bates Advertising but we shared the same office.

I didn’t go for the funeral but decided to attend his memorial last Saturday on 18th January when I saw a notice for it in the Sunday papers. It was held at the parish house of the St. Joseph’s Cathedral – a place easy enough for me to get to.

Sam was a friendly chap. He would keep to himself and mind his own business but he would be warm towards people around him. He had an arsenal of jokes, mostly bawdy though I don’t recall any of them. There were probably a few about me being a skinny person. Sam was a big guy, so big that he would often be out of breath after a walk or climb up the stairs.

When I was at M&C Saatchi and he was at Tequila down the road, I would sometimes go to his office building to meet him for lunch. He would be at the food court with his newspapers (probably Malay Mail or the Sun – I don’t remember for sure) and order a second teh limau ais towards the end of his meal.

The only time we met ‘outside the office’ was when he asked if I would like to go to a Mongolian restaurant he wanted to check out. It was somewhere in Pudu. We went on a weekend and he picked me up from my place. His car was small and when he sat in it, it would tilt to one side.

Making an appointment with Sam meant calling him at the office. He did not own a handphone. If someone from work needed to contact him outside office hours, they would have to call his house number. I wondered if that’s just to keep people from calling him back to work at night or on the weekends. Surely he had a handphone for family members and friends to get a hold of him. I asked his sister, Agnes if this was true. She confirmed that he did not own a handphone. His company gave him one but he didn’t use it. His family had to call him at the office too.

Knowing this, I was surprised to find out that he was on Facebook. When I first heard of his passing, I looked him up on Facebook. I learned from Agnes that he joined Facebook because he was looking for poker buddies. Checking his Facebook page shed more light on the kind of man Sam was. Those from work knew him as Sam (his surname) while family members called him by his middle name, Damien. He did not like to be called by his first name, Joseph. I don’t know why.

One of my favourite stories was shared by Joe Najib:

When I first met Joseph Damien Sam, it was it was in 2004. The company I just joined was leaving for Hawaii for a company incentive trip, and because I was new, I couldn’t go. So I jokingly told Sam to “bring back some volcanic rocks” for me. To my surprise a week later, he actually did! And I still have those rocks with me today.

Jovian Lee wrote about working with Sam:

RIP Joseph Damien Sam, fellow copywriter, ex-colleague from KHK who studied in Hyderabad and used to rhyme “equine, bovine, feline, canine and swine” and together we coined up names for F&N ice cream variants like “Sang Vanilla Utama” and “Lick Astley” – which the client never bought.  – they would come out with crazy names for ice cream flavours that never saw the light of day – Lick Astley and Sang Nila Utama. 

At the memorial, a few others shared their stories. Sham SunderBinwani, who was also the MC, reminisced about Sam being the first customer of his book business. And a tractor tyre that had to be brought in as a float for a Redang trip. A cousin shared about his first school holiday away from his parents with Sam’s family. Sam was warned not to tell the young lad any dirty jokes but he was deflowered anyway.

His brother-in-law shared a nice one about his son’s explanation for why God made Sam so big. Because his body had to fit his big heart and his brain had to have enough space for his encyclopedic knowledge.

The memorial was a nice way to honour Sam. Remember the good times, because Sam lead a full life and was a kind soul to his friends. It’s not about the time you spend with a friend, but the imprint you make as one. Live life fully, joyfully, honestly.

Reza Salleh was also invited to sing a few songs that Sam liked. I only recognised Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Talkin Bout A Revolution. He wrote this on his Facebook page:

I was invited to play at the remembrance day of Joseph Damien Sam, a man I’ve never met. He passed last Christmas Eve unexpectedly and I was contacted a few weeks ago by his sister Agnes who saw me perform at a corporate event organised by her company last year. I’ve never been invited to play for such an event before, let alone one dedicated to someone I didn’t know. I was unsure at first as it felt like I might be intruding on something intimate but Agnes said “He loved music and he would’ve really liked yours.” Last night I played to a small crowd at the Old Parish Hall beside St. John’s Cathedral in KL. It was a small, touching event, led and attended by family, close friends and colleagues. You could really feel the love for the man in the room. Wish I could’ve met you Sam.

Sam, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you when I see you. Teh ais limau, dua!

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UPDATE 27 Jan

The other songs performed by Reza are:
What The Hell Just Happened I’m Not Really Sure
For Her
Half The Soul
Putera Jaya

The songs can be found on YouTube but the live recordings are unclear, hence I am including only the first song. Enjoy!

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