I was Sam's friend and lawyer – in that order. On the surface I suppose we seemed vastly different. Sam – the quiet, thoughtful West Texan from a farming background and me – a quasi-sophisticated Bostonian from a proper Eastern law school. In fact, at our core we were very much alike. My Brooks Brothers suits masked the reality. I was an Irish Catholic kid from an Irish working class neighborhood in Boston and – as Sam – an overachiever. Sam and I both wanted to be successful. We were willing to work hard and, although our wives might not agree, we were able to keep the insanity that we had to deal with in the business world in some perspective. We both liked an occasional Lite beer, a good joke, and each other's company.
During our business relationship, a third person was added to the mix – we became an odd trio indeed. Sam walked into my office one day about 12 or 13 years ago, and had with him a small bespectacled Chinese gentleman who was to become his partner and, as always seems the case with Sam, his dear friend, C.K. Yap. C.K. was ethnic Chinese. He lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, maintained offices in Hong Kong and had been educated in London. This Texas farm boy of staunch Presbyterian stock was now being advised by a Boston Irishman and a Buddhist.
Sam and C.K. told me they had decided to buy a mortgage company, that they were trying to locate one, and that they needed my help. While I was thinking of a north Dallas operation, perhaps with offices in Fort Worth, it wasn't long before I spent a month in Hawaii negotiating, along with Sam and C.K., for the purchase of Honolulu Mortgage Company from a Hong Kong conglomerate.
C.K. was very formal in his business relations with others, but that approach simply wasn't possible in his relationship with Sam. Sam treated him as he did all others. He told C.K. what he would do and he did it. Before long, C.K. was ordering Lite beer, eating Mexican food and – idioms aside – telling a pretty good joke. C.K. had become a Stewart convert, and, as was inevitable, came to fully trust Sam. They were often doing business oceans apart and would spend months without seeing each other. In this era of fine print, their relationship turned on a handshake and a promise. Sam was bound and determined to deliver on these promises to his faraway partner and he did every time. It was truly an extraordinary business and personal relationship.
Sam, of course, was an excellent businessman. He used his incredible people skills – his insight – to judge the worth, integrity and credibility of his adversary. If we decided to complete a deal, it was always Sam who would be called on to close the last gap or reconcile the last difference. He could do it because by then everyone in the deal trusted him, even those on the other side.
What was important to me about Sam, however, was not his business success, but his success as a human being. Having a Lite beer together came to us to be a metaphor for our abiding relationship. We were able to tip a Lite beer together in numerous countries around the world. But two of my beer-drinking experiences with Sam stand out in my mind. First, several years ago, I was able to take Sam and Camey, his wife, to an Irish pub down by the wharf in Boston. We truly stayed all night and sang 'em all. If I didn't restrain him, I think Sam might have marched off with the Irish Republican Army that very night. More importantly, we were also able to visit the house I grew up in Boston where members of my family still live. I not only trusted Sam with all of this, I was delighted and honored to invite him into this, my other world.
The last beer drinking episode was just last week. I came down to see Sam; we both understood it was to be our last visit together. He was failing badly and was very uncomfortable. After sitting together silently for a few moments, Sam turned to me and, to my surprise, said "Let's have a Lite beer." His son, Dow, and I exchanged somewhat apprehensive glances. But with a twinkle in his eye and a weak voice, Sam said to Dow, "You know, BEER" – pulling his earlobe – "It rhymes with EAR." Dow being the dutiful son, brought beers to both of us. We toasted each other, clinked glasses, and sipped slowly. I was then able to tell him what his friendship meant to me. I told him that his friendship was unique in my experience because he accepted me for who I was – flaws and all – and trusted me. He somehow communicated this acceptance which helped me believe in myself. I saw Sam give this gift to many others. To me, this is his legacy.