Michael and Talia Klein, with Andrea Finn (far left), are pictured above at the Islas Secas resort in Panama.
Michael Klein was a funny, vivid, great big kid, with a daughter, a family, and a way of disarming people in an instant with his sincerity. And while you could prick your finger on his business acumen, or floss your teeth on his moral fiber, the man was still human, still wonderfully irreverent, and always found a way to question and find humor in the way things are.
Michael laughed. And laughed. And in so doing, we around him laughed too. He had this loud, high-pitched peal when he really got going, and he had to share the humor. What follows in this remembrance are the sounds of that laughter as told through folks who shared it with him, compiled here with the thought that if Michael were to read these words, he would be laughing too.
“The first time I was at the Islas Secas, Michael’s island eco-resort, we were at dinner one night. Talia picked up a spoon and got the curvy part to stick to her nose. She got a real kick out of that. Next thing I knew, I also had a spoon hanging from my nose as did Michael. We proceeded to have our conversations and share jokes with spoons hanging from our noses. We were laughing so hard I had to do all I could to keep from falling out of my chair.”
– Alim Kassam
“I had a terrible habit of packing like a super model on our many business travels-think five pairs of shoes, suit carrier, etc. Michael would only have a small roller case. One day we were zipping from meeting to meeting in NY, my four strides to his one-maybe I was zipping, he was simply walking. I followed Michael through a turnstile door into a swank NY office building. Michael cruised through like gazelle with his little bag on wheels. Me, I was the water buffalo (tranquillized) with oversize luggage. I literally got stuck-stuck! It was bad and he was not only laughing. He was crying with laughter. I had created a bottleneck in Mid Town!
“Later we were on an escalator. There was a pole at the end and to this day I’m not sure how I pulled it off but, yes, I got wedged between the pole and my luggage. Really wedged and, yes caused another bottleneck. However this time I needed to be bailed out. Of course with a loud laugh and radiant smile Michael rescued me, but not without embarrassment and ribbing that continued well into our future.”
– Kurt Benjamin
“When he first started coming to Panama, he flew into David in a private jet. You have to realize that David, Panama, is a very small, very provincial city, with not even a traffic light until last year. The employees of the airport had not seen many private jets fly into their tiny airport, and the occupants of those jets had been high-ranking military personnel, or presidents of other countries. When Michael disembarked, all the ground personnel were standing at attention and saluting. He laughed and laughed.”
– Deborah Jenft-Mauck
“Standing at six-foot-something (very tall), Michael drove an electric scooter for god’s sake! And for someone who could afford to take a gas-guzzling rocket to work if he wished to, he chose to drive a Prius and Toyota truck. Michael was so down to earth he was not offended when I asked him questions such as, ‘When in the hell are you going to get those braces off?’ In fact, he laughed.”
– Shannon Coburn
“My favorite thing about Michael is something he shared with Talia – that funny Popeye wink they would each get when they were laughing with abandon. Seeing it on either of them would always make me laugh even harder.”
– Pema Teeter
On the WORKPLACE:
“During Michael’s run in the early morning hours, I was working at one of the highest points on the ranch. He ran up to me one day and said, ‘You know one of these days we have to trade office space. Your view is much better than mine.’
“He loved running at the ranch and loved the views, so all the other times, he would run past me and say, ‘Good morning, Greg, how are things at the office?’ and I replied, ‘Great, you can come by any time. My door is always open’ (being outside). It was our running joke.”
– Greg Martin
“He told me that if it were up to him, the office would have a retractable roof.”
– Ale Folguera
“The eGroups company meetings would start with the typical company updates, news, and demos, but Michael would frequently end the meeting with a poem from Dr. Seuss. This always put an immediate smile on everyone’s face, left us feeling good, and also made a simple and profound point about how important the people around us are.”
– Rikk Carey
“One of our favorite things about Michael was his enthusiasm and energy. The first time he took us to the islands with a group from work, we witnessed this firsthand as we were approaching a beach to land the boat. He charged off before the front ‘landing gate’ was all the way down and the boat had come to a stop. He was so excited to get onto the beach that he just couldn’t wait, even though he had probably already been there at least a dozen times. He was like a big kid who couldn’t wait to get on the playground!”
– Steve and Katie Roth
“Michael’s eyes could light up like a little kid’s. But the one moment that stands out in my mind the most is watching Michael come back to the resort after the encounter with the whale shark, who Talia lovingly named Albert. He came back claiming he had the fish story to end all fish stories. When I asked him how many fish he caught, he beamed and said, ‘NONE!’ Then proceeded to tell the story and show off the pictures of the group’s encounter swimming with a baby whale shark.”
– Andrea Finn
“It was a day of adventure at Islas Secas and we had all sort of gone in different directions for the afternoon. Michael wanted to show me ‘the big tree’ and we set out in kayaks to a remote beach and trailhead. We hiked into the jungle and eventually got to the tree, and yes, it was tremendously impressive.
“Michael wanted to show me more of the island so we set out walking at ‘Michael-speed’ down a path. As we traversed from one type of forest to the next, Michael turned around and said, ‘You need to watch out for iguanas when we walk through here because they will fall out of the trees.’ Right about then I was thinking, ‘Yeah right, and next you’re going to tell me that wild pigs fly.’ But I nodded and pretended to believe him. We didn’t take more than five steps after that exchange and suddenly, from out of no where, this HUGE iguana with a massively long tail and claws falls from the sky and hits me in the shoulder and knocks me on my tail feathers.
“Now, I pride myself on not being a girly girl, but what Michael heard was a scream from me that was so shrill it made him spin around just in time to see the reptile running away. I was pale. Not sure if I was embarrassed by my scream, or stunned that an iguana took me down. After the initial shock wore off we started laughing so hard that we were crying and had to sit down for a little while.
“That event became a fixture that we would laugh about almost every time I’d doubt him on something or question him on since. It was a one-of-a-kind Michael moment I will forever remember.”
– Ceal Potts
Michael in past tense is hard to palate. But his vitality, for many of us, will live in laughter. Last year, I broke my index finger and had to have emergency surgery. I showed up to work the next day with a huge white bandage, and my arm and index finger raised over my head to thwart the swelling pain. I walked into his office to bring him something, and as I turned to leave he said, “Oh, and Pema, you ARE number one.”
At the risk of sounding sappy, Michael, I now retort, “No, you are. YOU are number one.”
“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”