On December 6, 2015, I bid a ceremonial farewell to my late husband Greg, through a celebration of his life at the Salamander Resort, near what had been our last home together in Middleburg, Virginia.
Now, one year and a half later, over the two weeks approaching Greg’s 54th birthday on June 6, 2017, I am taking the opportunity to post transcripts of the tributes that were delivered on the day of his memorial.
Below is a transcript of the tribute delivered by Steve Ward, Greg’s boss from approx. 1998 to 2002, at Charles Schwab. Greg was so happy in that job back then, that he persuaded me to also take a job with the firm. Original video here.
Thank you Alysoun for giving me the opportunity to speak – and as you might have noticed, I’m not on the program.
I knew Greg during his later San Francisco years when he worked at Schwab. I worked with him in the late nineties until he left for Freddie Mac in 2002. I was there as Chief Investment Officer with Charles Schwab Investment Management and Greg was senior analyst on asset backeds which had become especially important to us as we grew in complexity and lacked the depth in that area. So he was a brilliant hire to get us on our feet on that side of things.
I think working with Greg – the outstanding thing about him as a professional colleague was his quickness, his insight into things and his ability to simplify them, understand them, and bring all that together very, very quickly.
But on the personal side, what stood out to me about Greg and has always stood out – he’s one of the people I thought about many, many times since I worked with him – was his warmth. He was a very warm person, very funny, very easy to work with, and more than willing to share the burdens of any team he was working with, to do more than most people would ever contribute. And that humor was so incredibly important in so many situations.
Working in finance and working in a trading room situation, or working around people who trade, you know some of the intemperate remarks that people can make. And that was never Greg’s way. He always kept a very different tone about things, and people always enjoyed working with him. He was someone you wanted to work with.
I hear the stories from his high school friend about rocketry, and the goal was blowing things up. I think that helped him in his later career, because we said well, it’s not rocket science, it’s asset backeds. But the goal was different: we tried to have things not blow up. And he was very good at keeping us out of trouble there.
I think that the outstanding time that I think of working with Greg was in 1998 during the Asian crisis. And people know now of course about Lehman Brothers going bankrupt in 2008. But they probably aren’t aware that Lehman was extremely distressed in 1998 during the Asian crisis. They had a number of different exposures and there were many rumors about them, and we at Schwab had Lehman paper in our portfolio, partly on the corporate side – but on the asset-backed side we became aware of Lehman’s issues, and we began to work closely with them to try to see what we could do to protect ourselves. And it became very clear that within Lehman there were cross-currents about how to do this, and resistance to certain ideas.
But we got Greg involved, and one of the ideas we came up with was to get collateral behind our note to them. This was an unusual thing, because in this part of the market it wasn’t normal to have collateral. But as we worked with them, and they began to see the advantages that the note wouldn’t be called away, more and more and more people got involved, and the pressure was enormous.
One of the few documents I have from that time refers to it as “the events leading up to September 11”. That was the key date. That was September 11, 1998, but that was our crisis date in that environment.
And Greg was central to all of this, keeping it all going, keeping it together. There were, I counted, two dozen people involved – and it was an incredible burden to keep that pressure at bay.
And when it was all done, and the final terms were coming together, I was surprised by how much we had gotten, how well he had negotiated the whole thing. I said, “well, how much of the collateral that we were talking about did we get?,” and he said, “well, all of it.” So that was a surprise – he had clearly done very well there. And we got a better rate. So we ended up better in every way.
Part of the problem at Lehman was that they had their own resistance, as I said, internally – so there were great struggles there. So when it was all said and done, Lehman held a dinner, celebrating amongst themselves – but we were all invited. And one of the heroes of that dinner was Greg, because he had been central to getting this together from our side.
At that dinner, they gave out medals for the conflict we had been through, and they read out about the heroes and their struggles. So I told Alysoun, if you happen to find this in one of his boxes somewhere, this is his hero medal for saving Lehman the first time around. (Laughter) We can only wonder what would have happened if he’d been there the second time around. Things might have been different.
I hadn’t kept up with Greg. I know in the world of Facebook and email it may seem possible to keep up more with people. But I think of it as centrifugal force. That as our lives gain speed and we orbit wider and wider, we’re pulled away from each other. Think of the people you’ve known through the years – five years ago, ten years ago, or 20-30 years ago – and you think, well, where are they now? How could I stay in touch with them? How would I find them?
It especially saddened me, when I learned about Greg’s death, that it turned out I had moved back to Virginia in 2007, and he had been here in Middleburg for several years now. So we were neighbors and I didn’t even know it. He only lived ten miles away. So I am especially sad that I missed the opportunity to re-engage with him.
So, I do believe that there will come a time when I am able to speak to Greg again – and when I think of all the people I’ve worked with through the years, and the friends I’ve had, Greg definitely stands out as one of the good ones.