The turn in Sir Fazle Hasan Abed's life was pretty interesting.
Being a chartered accountant, he was a corporate manager at the outset, and his course in life was meant to be a smooth journey up the corporate ladder.
But he was whisked away from that by something that transpired in between.
On November 3, 1970, a deadly storm hit the southern part of Bangladesh. Sir Abed was then at the helm of the local office of Shell Oil Company, a multinational energy giant. He went to oversee the relief effort that his company had volunteered to do in Monpura under Bhola District.
For the first time, this smart young corporate guy, educated in British schools, came in close contact with the people – the common people of Bengal. He saw in its bare, naked form, the plight of this hapless populace.
This transformed Sir Abed to the core. He knew his life was never going to be the same again.
Before that, he had been living a posh life that belongs to the upper echelons of society. After the Monpura encounter, he began to see Bangladesh from a different perspective.
Shortly after the Liberation War began, he went to Britain and started to garner support for the cause of Bangladesh. I was then studying medicine in Britain. We built an organisation titled "Action Bangladesh".
I met him there, and we became close friends.
During the Liberation War, I came back to the battle front and started my field hospital. He remained in Britain trying to organise support for the cause.
After independence, he embarked on a journey to rebuild a war-ravaged country. He started from Dirai Salla, a remote area in Sunamganj district. I went there several times and saw how enthusiastic he was about his mission.
When he started to work in the health sector, I sent him the first doctor to work for him.
He spent the first few years in rehabilitation work. Then he realised that only relief work will not do, and that we need to build the infrastructure in different sectors.
When diarrhoea broke out on an epidemic scale, he embarked on a door-to-door delivery of knowledge of making oral saline. This was his new strategy – letting the people work for themselves and empowering them with responsibilities and knowledge.
It took him a long, arduous journey to build a huge organisation like Brac – the biggest non-government organisation on the face of the earth. It did not spring up from a void.
Sir Abed had that singular quality of making dreams come true. He did not stop at dreaming only. He worked tirelessly to find ways to materialise his dreams.
He was far-sighted. Having trained as a naval architect, he could draw the blueprint of a structure and knew how to make the blueprint come to life.
We developed a very close relationship. When I began working on non-communicable diseases such as kidney failure, he helped me with Tk10 crore in building our dialysis center. He knew how to collaborate for a common cause.
He had many other dreams. His last dream – establishing 500 high schools, one in every upazila across the country, so that the children of poor people can have quality education and proper access to higher education – remains unfulfilled.
When his health began to deteriorate in November, I went to see him at his home. We spend a long time reminiscing about the days of the war and our shared struggles for the same cause.
He was very vivid with his memories, despite his illness that had affected his brain badly. He was an avid reader of English literature. He had a very good taste for it.
With the demise of Sir Abed, we have lost a great humanitarian – a man who could dream big and knew how to make them come true.