It’s Saturday morning here in Paris, the 21st of July, 2012. Just one week ago, on July 14, 2012, my colleague, mentor and friend Jeff Haskins passed away in Mombasa, Kenya at the age of 32. His passing has left a big black hole which is impossible to fill, and so much pain.
In the past week, every morning as I look up at the sky I am reminded that another day is dawning where Jeff won’t be able to see the sky, hear the birds or go on doing what he was born to do: making a difference to people’s lives.
Jeff made a difference at every level. His legendary ability to connect with people all over the world has been celebrated in the tributes which have poured forth in the past week from heartbroken family, friends, colleagues and clients. Jeff knew no boundaries of race, language or religion – he touched everyone with his smile, his charisma, his unique vision of the world.
I first worked with Jeff as a consultant on an International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) promotion in September 2007. In the ensuing years he taught me everything I know about PR, media relations, advocacy and more importantly: making an impact. Everything he did was about maximizing that impact. He had an uncanny sense of strategy and razor sharp judgement in every situation. He had a super-human devotion to the cause of each and every one of his clients, and they were numerous. He had boundless reserves of energy and he was full of life, as anyone who has seen his smile can testify.
Jeff and I had a unique and irreplaceable working relationship. We always worked at a distance – he was in Nairobi, I was in Paris. But over hundreds and hundreds of Skype calls, there was something I can only call a magical alchemy that flourished and endured. When I learned of his death last weekend, I struggled to understand how I could possibly go on doing communications work with him no longer there at the end of the Skype call to brainstorm with. Jeff defined the law of “two brains are better than one” when it came to brainstorming, except that in his case the equation would be more like 1+1 = 5.
I trawled through my email account this morning looking at thousands of emails that Jeff and I shared on all the promotions we worked on together. I now understand the common theme that unifies that work: it was about making a difference, and Jeff never gave up on his singular ambition to do so for each and every client. This was the energy that drove hundreds of successful campaigns, the thing that underlies a comment I saw on the Burness memorial page saying that his work literally resulted in “$ millions of grants” for one client. Jeff would have been happy to see that one.
This year, I had the privilege of working with Jeff on a media campaign that I ran for the International Council for Science at Rio + 20. So instead of being his colleague, this time I got to be Jeff’s client. I always knew that it was special to be Jeff’s client, but nevertheless there are some things that have to be experienced at first-hand. We started talking in April and the conversations continued until we met up in Rio mid-June. What can I say? His awesomeness as a strategic advisor was peerless. Every time I got on Skype with him and articulated a challenge, I would emerge half an hour later (our calls were always very efficient!) buzzing with new ideas and a fresh vision that had just been augmented tenfold. It was this constant, tireless scaling up to a Big Vision which was Jeff’s trademark. He did this in real time, thinking out loud. It was like performance art. It was fast, furious and brilliant. And he was always right. (with one exception perhaps: pitching Will.I.Am to write a song for the Cowpea Breeders Conference might have been over-ambitious?)
In Rio we had many conversations about the future. Many of them were unfinished, broken off mid-sentence, because we were too busy, because there was a lot of work. We shared two memorable days together visiting EMBRAPA and a Rio favela with the media. Nothing will ever be the same again. But we must remember and honor his love of life, his genius for making a difference and his irrepressible energy, creativity, intelligence and curiosity. While we were at the favela in Rio, I kept handing him my pocket Leica so that he could capture the scenes with his unique vision and talent. Those shots are overflowing with movement and color, just like Jeff himself.
I actually don’t know how to end this post, so I’m just going to include some shots (thanks to Jeffrey Oliver of IITA) of our unforgettable trip to southeast Nigeria in September 2010 to promote yams for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). We ate a lot of yam, made a lot of new friends, and I hope we made a difference to funding for yam breeders.
Jeff, we will always miss you. The world is a smaller place without you.
Enjoy some of Jeff’s shots here from the ILRI pinterest board.