It was an autumn night in Saudi Arabia when I sent a text message that said in effect, “You’ve always been a fighter and a winner. You can do it again this time.”
The message was for Talaat F. Wafa, former editor-in-chief of Riyadh Daily. Suffering from a serious disease, he was in a hospital in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.
He had to fight for his survival. He was too young to go to the Great Beyond!
At that time I was happy in my job in another news organization. I was finishing as much work as I could, instead of counting the hours on the job.
When Mohammed Rasooldeen, a fellow senior reporter and now editor-in-chief of Colombo Times in Sri Lanka, and I reported to the office at eight in the morning, we would work till late at night.
We were driven by a desire to be regular staff members of the company that hired us after our previous employer, Al Yamamah Press Est., shut down Riyadh Daily at the end of 2003.
We were in the office everyday. Raid Qusti, the Saudi bureau chief in Riyadh, informed Khaled Almaeena, the Arab News editor-in-chief at the time, about it.
Almaeena—a well-known Saudi journalist and editor, business executive, blogger and entrepreneur— instructed Qusti to tell us that we should take a day off once a week.
The instruction was more than encouraging. It was an indication that we were doing more than enough and, hence, there was no reason why we could not become regular employees.
Despite the heartening news, I was gripped with apprehension regarding my former editor-in-chief’s serious condition halfway across the globe.
At first I thought the whispers were just idle gossip. I ignored them as I was busy trying to get back in the swing of things after worrying whether I could get another job or not after my former newspaper was closed.
But the rumors proved to be true and I was worried. Talaat F. Wafa was no longer my boss but he had been more than that to us. He was a friend not only to me but to all other former employees under him.
He was pro-employee and never played favorites. If there was a complaint he made sure there was a basis for it, asking the person(s) involved.
If he could not do anything about it, he let the person who made the complaint know that he tried his best to help.
Wafa replied to my text message, indicating that he had been spending time communicating with people close to him his uncertainty about what the future held.
His wife, a doctorate degree holder, was teaching in a well-known university in the Saudi capital. He had a young daughter who was in school.
His response to me was neither optimistic nor pessimistic, mentioning briefly his sad state and the treatment he had been undergoing.
He seemed to be saying that I should prepare for disappointment if I was upbeat regarding his chances of survival.
My message, in encouraging and inspiring language, did not seem to make him feel better though, knowing him, I knew he appreciated my attempt to help lessen his suffering.
A member of the royal family, a Saudi prince, helped defray Wafa’s hospitalization expenses.
Unfortunately, even the excellent medical service could not help Wafa. He died of cancer at age 54.
“When he decided to give up the fight, he asked his mother to allow him to go,” said one of his former employees.