On Christmas Eve, while I was wrapped in the warmth of family and laughter, traditions old and new, hours spent at the table in conversation–in the darkest of contrasts, a bright spark extinguished in the world. My dear friend and mentor died that same day after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
I met Anne when I was just 22 years old. At the time, she was our Nigeria country program director and she came into our HQ office for a regular visit. Although she barely knew me, she had such warmth about her she instantly made you feel like you were old friends. Anne had the rare ability to make others feel comfortable in their own skin. Her overflowing positive energy was infectious. Somehow she convinced my boss that it was a good idea to send me to Nigeria to train her staff. I still remember how confident she was that my background in journalism was just what her staff needed. Anne gave me my first chance to prove myself.
In Nigeria, Anne welcomed me into her home. Something about working in the field quickly blurs the line between colleague and new family member. We not only worked together, but we spent the evenings going on walks around Abuja, swimming laps in her pool and watching taped episodes of MI-5, a BBC show Anne loved. Anne was able to bring out the best in people. I gained confidence on that trip and returned to our HQ feeling like I had much to offer our organization. Anne was not the only one who noticed and I quickly moved into a management position– thanks very much in part to the opportunity Anne gave me.
Although Anne eventually moved to a position at our organization based in the US, we had the pleasure of going to Nigeria together again in 2010. I will never forget those trips and the memories of Anne jogging in Makurdi with me, haggling for road side tomatoes, and yelling at a chef who served her a raw chicken–his only explanation “I was in a haste.” Anne and I joined forces on many projects, sometimes working 10 and 12 hour days on a proposal. As frustrating and difficult as things got, Anne always had a positive spin on everything. Every conversation began and ended with laughter. Anne was one of the most genuine and loving people I have ever come across. In developing my management style I aimed to emulate Anne’s effortless ability to take things in stride, find the humor in just about everything and believe in people.
It is difficult to accept that she is gone. I will never forget the lessons she taught me. Anne was a rare find among people. I feel privileged to have worked with her. As brief as those five years were, they shaped me professionally and personally.
In reflecting on this holiday season, something felt different–I think the change was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Living far away from my family, consumed by the task of medical school, I savored every moment I had with them. For the first time since embarking on this grand challenge I actually didn’t feel the urge to study. I lived in the moment and enjoyed every morsel of time with family, friends and my husband. In the end, these moments are what matters.