Eulogy by Andrew Pahlman
I want to tell you a bit about the remarkable woman I have had the privilege of spending the last 30 years with.
I met Anna-marie in Cape Town just over 30 years ago. She was beautiful, smart, generous, had a heart of gold and drove a cool car. I was a bit rough and worn from 18 months on the road, travelling across 4 continents.
Whilst we had never met before, we had worked for the same global consulting company and had colleagues and friends in common, notably David our MC. She invited me to stay in her spare second bedroom which she was using as a dark room for her photography.
"Thank goodness he's not my type" was her first thought when she saw me. She was in the process of migrating to Australia and didn't need any complications in her life. First impressions are not always right. We soon fell in love, and she got her dark room back again.
I got a job in the Cape Town office with the same company. South Africa at the time was very conservative, and intra-office romances were taboo. We had to be very discreet. We had the perfect cover. I was AM’s flatmate from Australia, and it was natural for us to come to work together, be seen out at dinners, go home together and so on. No overt affection in the office, of course.
By 6 months all the Partners and most of the office knew we were together and were fine with it. They could see it worked and there were no issues. By the time we left, 2 years later, there were several other couples in the office. I like to think we played a small part in promoting social progress in South Africa.
AM loved the outdoors and had a great sense of adventure. My first serious question to her a couple of months after we met was: “Do you want to come skiing in Canada for 6 weeks?” She said “Yes". She didn't say "where, when, how, what, how much?" She said yes, she would love to. "Will you marry me" seemed completely superfluous.
She became an excellent skier and my best ski buddy for nearly 20 years. She did it all: steeps, powder, bumps, heli-skiing and even skiing at altitude: 17,500 ft or 5400m in Bolivia. For reference, that’s the same altitude as Everest Base Camp, considerably higher than Mount Blanc and more than 2.5 times the height of Mt Kosciusko.
Behind AM’s gentle and unassuming exterior lay amazing strength, courage, and endurance. We left South Africa hitching a ride on 40’ catamaran across the Atlantic to Brazil. It was a 6-week crossing with just five of us on board including the skipper. Right off the bat we hit massive storms. For 4.5 days we didn’t know what was up or down. The cat was thrown around like a cork, lashed by ferocious winds and battered by violent seas. Even the skipper a very seasoned sailor, who had circumnavigated the world, was miserable and seasick.
AM was prone to sea sickness in a slight swell. She had a “competent crew” certificate from a sailing course on Sydney harbour. She ate nothing for 5 days. She could not even keep her seasickness tablets down. Yet never once did she complain, shirk her crewing duties, or beg out of her watch shifts. She just got on with it. Once the storm passed, she loved the open ocean, the sunsets, and the starlit nights.
I saw the same strength and courage in her long battle with cancer. In her quiet unassuming way, she faced it with resilience, integrity, and honesty. She kept going and enjoying life as much as her condition allowed. Even while on treatment for metastatic disease she did remarkable things. We travelled, skied, hiked, camped, and had adventures.
Twice she paused her treatment to go river rafting in the remote African wilderness. 5 days on the water with hectic rapids, sleeping under the beautiful African stars. No bathroom, no toilet let alone doctors, nurses, or hospitals. These are great memories for us to cherish as a family.
AM was never bound by convention. She did things her way. We were very compatible in that regard. Marriage for example was not important for either of us. We valued substance over form. We felt our relationship had all the substance already and didn’t need the formality of “marriage”.
We did eventually get married when the Rachel was 2 and Anna still a baby. My proposal to her wasn’t storybook romantic. By that stage I was a Partner with Accenture and we had relocated to Singapore for a few years. Singapore doesn’t do “de facto”. AM’s status as my spouse wasn’t recognised. To the SGP government I has 2 dependents (Rachel and Anna) and 1 social visitor (AM). AM couldn’t open a bank account, start a mobile phone contract, let alone get a job.
She was expressing her frustrations about this one morning and I said: “well, why don’t we get married?”. We bundled up the girls and went straight down to the SGP Registry of Marriages, requesting to be married. They looked at us like we were from outer space. They explained SGP has a 28-day cooling off period. So, I looked in my diary, found a date 4 weeks later and booked it in. Nothing if not practical and efficient.
With the realisation that we were getting married we decided to throw a party. We hired out a beach resort on a Malaysian island and sent message to our friends: “it’s on in 2 weeks, if you can make it, we’d love to see you”. We had a beautiful wedding ceremony on the beach, in bare feet, AM in a white dress, me in clean shorts. Several people here today managed to travel to Malaysia at short notice to help us celebrate.
AM was incredibly smart. She embodied lifelong learning and could teach herself anything. She was generous with her knowledge, skills and time. She became an expert in many fields.
She was an expert on SAP, the enterprise software used by large organisations all around the world. She knew how to configure it to achieve outstanding results. She wrote articles that became referenced by SAP practitioners all around the world. She set up her own website called “SAP Scene” to host the knowledge articles so that they could easily be accessed.
I only realised the significance of this when one day I got a call on our home number from a gentleman who thought he was calling SAP. SAP was a $50B global company and he was calling on our home phone. I suggested he must have the wrong number. He said “no”, he called the number on the SAP website. He had it up on his computer screen right then.
He had googled “SAP”, and AM’s SAP Scene website had been the first search result. It came up ahead of SAP’s own website and all its global implementation partners. Those who know something about the internet will know how crazy that is. It was the combination of access patterns, the number of people linking to the site, and that AM understood how the web crawlers worked and how to get their attention. The web crawlers are the bots that continually search and index content on the www.
AM had a science and technology background. At one stage she wanted to understand how the world of business worked, the world of companies and capital markets. She studied up and became somewhat of an expert. She understood technical and fundamental analysis. She read annual reports and assessed management teams. She started investing in shares and writing options.
Unlike many Aust investors she looked beyond the ASX (Aust Stock Exchange) which she felt was dominated by Australian resources and financial services companies. She started trading on exchanges in America and Europe. It was a little scary to be honest, as they had limited validation. Get an exchange rate wrong or add a zero and in one click you could lose a fortune. But she was careful, good with numbers and knew how to manage risk. She did very well. Soon after she mastered it, she lost interest and cashed out. Good timing, just before the GFC.
She then got into the internet in a big way. She was a brilliant researcher, and the web gave her unlimited scope. She built plug-ins for her own websites and in her true generous, sharing style made them available to others for free as “shareware”. They were cleverly designed and were picked up and used by 1000s of users around the world, many of them clubs and associations. She sometimes showed me messages from her network which gave me a glimpse of this other world she inhabited.
Of our 30 years together, we have shared 17 with her cancer. It arrived like a hurricane. It was aggressive and had already spread through her lymph system by the time she was diagnosed. She went through horrific treatments and nearly died. But she survived and outlived all predictions.
It was a journey of constant tests, scans, check-ups. We had many scary moments along the way when a treatment stopped working and we hunted around for another. Some treatments were brand new and gave us a few more good years. I’m thankful for every day of those 17 years.
The ever-present cancer has been both a burden and a gift. A gift because we never took tomorrow for granted. We never said: “we should do that sometime in the future”. We just did it.
More than anything she was an amazing mother. She loved her girls and was so proud of them. She would go to the end of the world for them, and sometimes did. She was aware of the pressure her condition placed on them.
It feels like she stayed alive through sheer will power until she knew that they were ok. And they are more than ok. She lives on every day in their love, their smiles, their spark, intelligence, courage, and their generous and caring nature.