Personal Online Journal

Monday, March 30, 2015

If you know better, do better

I found out that my good friend Sam Meacham took his life Thursday morning Mar 19. At the time I was taking time off to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary. I was checking into work so as to not have a bajillion emails to sort through when I came back. My friend and workmate Jerry messaged me on Skype and then called me up to tell me. It was a total shock to me and from what I have gathered from everyone else near him too.

I have worked with Sam for at least 7 years. We had more than a casual business relationship. I remember clearly how he was hired. I had been hired in July 2005.  A couple of years later we convinced management to hire another programmer. We went through several people. Then we came to Sam. At the time, I was the only formally trained programmer at the Mapping Center. Gene and Jerry were trained GIS professionals that had started up programming out of their interest and the needs there.

After our first interview with Sam, I told Gene, Jerry and Cliff (our boss) that our second interview was not so much to convince ourselves that Sam was qualified. It was to convince Sam that he wanted to come and work with us.

I remember that one of the concepts that peaked his interest was Object Relational Mapping (ORM). It was something that I had been studying at the time and was trying to find a good solution for. For the first several years, that was something he worked on. He eventually wrote his own code because of the lack of adequate solutions out there. NOEF is his creation and what we have used as our DB to Code mapping solution for every new project for many years.

He also had a hard time finding a solution for connecting server side code in C# in ASP.NET to client-side javascript data structures. So was born another solution, restcake.

These are only the most public software tools he created. There are dozens of other ones he created. He created software to generate a Visual Studio project so that Natalie and Matt could more easily start a new, custom solution for a customer. He created an error logging system that is used in all our projects. He created a user system that all of the internal customers of the Mapping Center, now Location Analytics and Mapping Center (LAM). He figured out how to get a bigger extent in the Google Maps API so we could generate high resolution output fit for printing. I could go on...

He was, without exaggeration, ten times as productive as me and had much more maintainable and extensible code. Joel Spolsky was right
The real trouble with using a lot of mediocre programmers instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they work, they never produce something as good as what the great programmers can produce. ("Hitting the High Notes", Joel Spolsky, July 25, 2005)

But it wasn't his amazing intellect and work ethic that impressed me the most. He was fearless.

I am a practicing Mormon. Sam was born in a home of practicing Mormons. The details of his early life with the LDS faith and his family are not mine to tell, but to summarize, a few years ago, when he moved to Seattle. He started a journey that led him to agnosticism and then atheism. He fearlessly followed his conscience wherever it took him. He searched out evidence but also was introspective, thoughtful and listened to his heart.

He seemed to settle into a life without a formal religious component. But he didn't seem to have the nihlism. He seemed to have meaningful relationships with his wife and children. We both work from home. And we sometimes will be on Skype calls. I remember often his wife bring him a delicious lunch and how he would thank her warmly. Or when one of his kids came in his office, he would ask them how things were going or answer their questions no matter how juvenile they might seem to others. He cared what others thought.

He was genuine. I heard and saw from the Memorial service last Saturday, how he reached out to his sister in law and sat down with her when she felt lost settling into a new home in Seattle. He talked and listened until they worked it out. Or how he, without hesitation let his best friend live with them for an extended time. He never hinted at when his friend might leave. There was only patience and love.

One of my favorite stories was from another friend who said that he got an empty box as a birthday present from Sam. Sam told him to not open it, because it was filled with love. His friend admitted that he was a little disappointed because he wanted something more materialistic. He later realized that Sam really did not have the means to give him that. And what he did give was worth more than any traditional gift.

He gave his son several tons of dirt for his birthday present. Sam was generous. At work and at home. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jerry get up before me at the memorial service and share how Sam always was willing to help other programmers. He was patient and thorough. I do laugh at the times that he would tell me that Jerry was asking him something. Sam said that he would purposely not answer Jerry because a lot of times, Jerry would figure it out by himself. I am sure he did the same for me. I often would ask him something only to figure it out myself after a few minutes or a few hours.

I now no longer have the luxury of asking him.

I learned from Sam that it matters more who you are rather what religion or belief you have. Who you are is the sum result of your thoughts, words, actions, habits and character. It is your essence. Sam was a good man. I have no doubt that God will see that. I expect Sam to recognize the new information that he has now. That he has not stopped existing. He will act accordingly.

Several people at the memorial repeated something Sam would share, "If you know better, do better". That is the essence of the call “Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13)  Repentance includes turning away from things that are unhealthy. To do better when you know better. What Sam said reminds me of what Abraham Lincoln said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion."

I was so glad to go to the memorial service on Saturday. It seemed that I had been privileged to know several of the pieces of Sam's puzzle. On Saturday, I saw so many more that I had never seen. They were wonderful and they fit into the character I knew Sam to have.

I recognize that funerals bring out the rosiest of pictures about those passed on. Sam certainly was not perfect. He had his faults. But he was an exceptional person. He was authentic. He was kind. These are two of the attributes I heard a lot on Saturday.

I will miss Sam terribly. I will have to figure out the rest of my career. I had hitched my wagon to his. I am ten years older than he. I figured he would help me and inspire me and be with me for the rest of it. He will not.

I am not sure what it was that led him to take his own life. I only hope that he is finding peace now. I know that God will be merciful to those who give mercy. It seems Sam fits that very well.

Fare well my friend, until we meet again.


taylor shaw said...

Rich that was very beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Yuki said...

Sam will be with you for the rest of it. Just in a different way.

Levi Gunderson said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Cliff Plank said...

Thanks for sharing Rich. It's good to hear a few memories and more context from someone I knew that knew Sam. Having only worked with him for about 10 months, many years ago, I don't have a ton of specific memories.

I had comments and a letter to leave behind for Mauren, that I didn't because they would have been redundant and thin compared to those who knew him better. If I had anything to add, it would be that (in addition to being extremely talented at whatever he set himself to do) Sam was completely comfortable being himself. Like others said, authentic and genuine; and like you said, fearless. I think most people wear masks; are uncomfortable in different situations, with different people, in different periods of their life, insecure or unsure of themselves, etc....Sam had none of that. It's what made him great to be around and able to conquer most anything. I admired and envied him for that.

That said, and in addition to the comments Saturday, I'm left befuddled and wincing asking why. It was tough to hear everyone struggling to share their good memories and funny stories about Sam and his friends, kids, family....all while doing the math on that skateboard that kept reminding me that he was only 33. Why.

I guess it's somewhat comforting not to be alone in that confusion. Your comments above give me a bit more context and companionship in this. Again thanks for sharing, and giving me space to do the same (I swear I didn't plan on being this long winded).