This week the Tufin family is mourning the loss of one of its very dearest friends. On December 28th, while returning from a Christmas holiday trip with his wife in Midland Texas, the eastbound car that Michael and Beth Hamelin were in was struck, head on, by another vehicle that crossed over the median from the westbound lane. Michael's wife Beth was airlifted to a hospital in Fort Worth Texas where she continues to recover from miraculously minor injuries. Sadly Michael did not survive.
Everyone who reads this, I hope, has at least met Michael. If you've forgotten what he looked like, well it's sort of hard to describe and would be dependent on when you met him. Michael's appearance has changed so much, over the years. He's had short hair, shaggy hair and even no hair. He has looked like a clean-cut boy and at times a shorter, if more jovial biker. That was one of his charms and you just got used to it. You were never surprised by what he looked like.
If you were to ask me what his personality was like, well…that was somewhat dependent as well. At work I think the best way to describe him was 'focused'. If you had a problem you could take it to Michael. Michael could take raw data and understand it and turn it into a solution faster and more effectively than anyone I have ever known. When confronted with a real problem, one that required real thought, he would sit there and stare at the white board, or the computer monitor. You could almost feel the heat coming off his head as he thought about. He rarely asked a question twice, rarely looked at his notes, he might lean in over his keyboard and hunt some information down on the Internet, absently rotating his class ring around his finger, but mostly he just thought. Trying to interrupt him was completely futile. When the answer came it was usually simple, elegant and left you with a “why didn't I think of that” feeling.
When talking with customers Michael could build instant rapport with any group of people he was talking to. From the executives in the wood lined halls of the largest companies to the dustiest, hottest computer room in the West Virginia coal country Michael had no problems. Different cultures, religions, countries none of it mattered to Michael. He was able to communicate with anyone. Always as a peer; always with respect.
Michael was a brilliant soul. Honestly one of the smartest people I have ever met. Generally when you find someone of that intellectual caliber they can be condescending or imperious. Michael could never be described that way. He was courteous and polite. He knew that other people may not understand what he knew, but he never assumed they couldn't understand. He always took it upon himself to fill that knowledge gap and was infinitely patient with people. Michael was understated and modest about his achievements. While he enjoyed public speaking he was never a braggart. In his days of hacking, the group that he was a founding member of was nearly God-like in their skill. They decimated the annual defcon capture the flag competition for several years running. They won so many times they were finally asked to run the competition which they did for several more years. Michael wouldn't really talk about those achievements. You had to pull that information out of him or, as was often the case, hear about it from someone else.
I will always remember Michael. He was my friend and I am blessed to have known him for the time that I have. His death is a terrible reminder to appreciate what we have today and to focus on the things in our lives that are truly important.
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come”
Rabindranath Tagore – Indian poet and philosopher