A Loss

A wonderful man died yesterday.

Forty years ago, when I was in eleventh grade, I got word that one of my older sisters, who was then in college, was dating a classmate of hers who had gone to the same boarding school that I was attending. I was told that he had been the undefeated captain of the squash team at my school, just as he was at their college, so I ambled over to the gym to take a look at his pictures on the wall.

The face that stared down at me from the wall was exotic. He was Pakistani and had wild hair (it was the mid seventies). He looked a little crazy to me. At that moment I certainly would not have guessed that after a long, star-crossed romance he and my sister would marry and live in London.

He was raised mostly in the US, attended our finest schools, worked for our most elite financial institutions and walked with those at the pinnacle of our society. I have photos of him (and my sister) in the Oval Office, on visibly friendly terms with a President.

I met him not long after I first saw his photograph on the gym’s wall. Not only was he not crazy – I’m guessing he had put on his fiercest looks for the team photographs – he turned out to be an astonishingly charming guy. He was funny and generous of spirit, with an easygoing manner that entirely hid the competitiveness that made him a champion athlete, and later a success on Wall Street and in London and the Middle East.

He never for a moment ceased being wholly of his native land and family. His mother, while she was living, and his siblings, lived in Pakistan. He visited them regularly; in that world, too, he was close to those at the top of society.

His consistently friendly and funny manner also hid his feelings about the conflicts between the two radically different worlds in which he had deep roots. He knew both cultures from the inside, and faced our world, and I have no doubt the other, with kindness. Among his closest lifelong friends were people of all three great Abrahamic faiths, many of whom, in addition to cultural differences, also had political views in sharp contrast with his own. He was ever anxious to make others comfortable.

Over time he became fully a member of our family. He visited when he could, and always remembered to call my mother with cheerful greetings on her birthday, Christmas and Easter because he knew what those days meant to her – even this year, when he and my sister knew, but we didn’t, that he was dying.

There are few who embody a kindness toward those with whom they differ better than he did. And not nearly enough who love as steadfastly as he did my sister, and she him.

I am sad about my sister’s loss, but feel very lucky to have known him. He was the rarest of birds.


M.H. Johnston


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