Long time readers might recall that to end each year I like to tell the story of fun and interesting cases I’ve worked on over the years. I’m blessed because the folks we work with don’t lack in personality, such as Anna the Secret Santa, from last year, or Joan and Ted, from The Most Financial Planning Fun I’ve ever Had.
When I met Sammy, he was in his late 60s. Sammy had an amazing life story – he was born in desperate conditions in a third-world country, ravaged by war and violence and run by a dictator. It was, as one might imagine, not a great place to grow up. The village in which he was raised had no sewer system, nor running water. It was impossible to build basic infrastructure in a place where war was a constant threat.
Determined to find a better life, Sammy hid aboard a cargo ship in order to escape. It seemed to him better to risk being lost at sea, than staying where he was. Eventually that ship found its way to Halifax, where he arrived here in Canada as a refugee.
Sammy built a new life for himself. He married, settled down, and built a family with his wife Mary. Every day, he would say, was like winning the lottery – which, as it turns out, was an apt turn of phrase. One day, Sammy did in fact, win the lottery, and found himself a millionaire.
Can you imagine what it would be like, coming from such humble beginnings, grateful for every day you woke up in freedom, to find yourself wealthy in an instant? What do you think you would do? The stats say that most lotto winners end up blowing it all, often in a matter of a few years.
Sammy instead, decided that he would give almost all of it away.
Some went to his church, as a thank you for the support he received from that community on his arrival to Canada as a desperate young man fleeing violence. Some went to family. The bulk of it, however, went back to his home country, to the village he grew up in, where he helped pay for the installation of sewer infrastructure. It was an unglamorous, but much needed gift.
I suppose that you could say that most lotto winnings go down the toilet, but in this case, Sammy’s lotto winnings allowed people to have a toilet!
Sammy used the rest of his winnings as collateral for a business loan here in Canada for a friend in need. A year later, the business failed, and the bank foreclosed on the loan. Despite this, it never bothered Sammy that he had so much money, and it was all gone. Instead, what kept him up at night was the difference in how his banker treated him with, and without the money.
“Ryan,” he told me once in tears, “that money was never mine. God lent it to me to do good in the world, and we did that, and I am proud of it, and have no regrets. But I can’t get over how the bank treated me like a God the day I won the money, but then treated me like dirt when they took the last of it away. I’ll never forget that feeling until my dying day.”
He never did, and that’s how we started working together. On my end, I was so very grateful to have spent some time with Sammy and Mary. They were wonderful people, with such a great grasp on the important things in life. A couple of years after we met, Sammy died at a relatively young age, as his early life had taken a heavy toll on his long-term health.
His was a life very well lived, indeed. It has been many years, and I still think of him fondly.
As a tribute to his kindness, generosity, and impact on the world around him, nearly 750 of us showed up for his funeral, in a church designed to hold only 500. All this for a man who had only a handful of family members in Canada.
Happy Holidays, and all the best to you in 2019. I hope Sammy’s story inspires you this holiday season to give generously to make the world a better place.