My Inspirational Friend, Colleague & Mentor: George by Zareen Karani Araoz, Ph.D.

Aug 23, 2022

Wherever you may be,
We hope you will see,
Lives you touched were enriched by your giving,
And your inspiration lives on, as if you were living

By Zareen Karani Araoz, Ph.D.

In 1983 at Lund University in Sweden at a Conference in Intercultural Communication, where I had come from India to present, I met a gentle, rather quiet, deep-thinking but very humble and thoughtful “Intercultural Specialist”. Amongst presenters from all parts of the world, something about George’s quiet and sincere depth, his thoughtful listening, his pausing and absorbing before responding struck me as him being someone who spoke from a source of great wisdom and secure faith. He always seemed to stimulate others to reflect and see things in different ways, and to search for the real meaning and purpose of an activity.

His wise, but quiet way of being, while supporting each individual, was inspirational. And it continued to be, as I had the real good fortune to meet and interact with George after that, for many years in different locations and situations around the world.

One thing in George was always constant: his faith in goodness and in the existence of God. He communed daily with the “all-knowing”, and searched the scriptures for answers of daily life, and more---a habit he had cultivated with his parents.

George embodied Integrity and so always elicited deep respect. To me he was a colleague, mentor, friend and someone who could be trusted and depended on and called on at any time, always. Our family feels blessed to have had him in our lives, and we cherish the times we spent together—where, along with his serious listening and sharing, we also saw his relaxed playfulness, his hearty laughter, and a unique sense of humor.

George was my go-to friend for all my major professional decisions when I returned from India. He assured me of his support in any venture I chose to undertake. And he stood by his word, solidly! As a truly trusted, good friend.

Even though raised on different continents, we shared many values and childhood and family experiences. I deeply respected George’s devotion to and protection of his sister, and his strong sense of responsibility to both his siblings, and his loving care of his mother.

I remember my first SIETAR meeting at George Mason University in 1984, when I flew in from India. George, who had only met me once before, welcomed me as one would an old friend and introduced me to others in the group. There, I experienced the fun side of George, as we all laughed, shared stories about our diverse lives, and everyone seemed to support and care for each other, in that University café. I felt at home and accepted as one of them. That was the SIETAR International spirit, but that was also what an introduction from George did. It helped others trust and accept me.

With SIETAR I met George in many cities across the US and the world, including Banff, Vienna, San Antonio, Denver, Amsterdam, Montego Bay, Kilkenny, Munich, Tokyo, Curacao, and many others. After SIETAR Netherlands, a small group of us went to the Keukenhof, where George was in his element--- walking, talking, and photographing flowers, at which he was a master. And then on to Copenhagen and Lund. But when we met on assignments, e.g., in Sweden or Boston, George was laser-focused on the task, to give his best, whatever he was doing.

George empowered others and transferred great strength and confidence to those he was guiding, building their self-esteem, and demonstrating he had total faith in their good intent and their capabilities.

All this he did naturally, often including his unique way of communicating his energy, delight, or genuine enthusiasm, with a twinkle in his eyes, even in the midst of “serious business”! George enjoyed what he did.

Some professional experiences with George that taught me so much, include:

  1. George was on my Advisory Board at Lesley University to assist our Master’s Program in Intercultural Relations. He attended numerous meetings with me on his visits. One strategy I learnt from George was his preparation. He would make sure I was well equipped with all the points I needed to make my case for more budget etc. But what he taught me was the habit of asking before any meeting: “What do want as a result of this meeting? He kept reminding me of MY stated purpose and asked further, “What should happen in the meeting to ensure we get this outcome?” He was clear and single minded when he knew there was a professional goal to achieve. I still try to follow this--- and pass it on to leaders I coach.
  2. The most fun and insightful professional activity with George was when we were co-planning a workshop. As we discussed things, George would listen, sense the outcomes we wanted, and then come up with fun, interactive, unique, and even dramatic, creative ways to help the participants gain the insights we wanted to convey. I still ask myself when developing an activity, “How might George have challenged me/us to be more creative?”
  3. When I was President of SIETAR, George was my pillar for counsel, guidance, and support. His insights before Governing Council Meetings, his advice to have a rather lengthy cultural and organizational orientation meeting of all Council members from various parts of the world before we started any meeting, was invaluable. Even now I can hear his voice asking, “How can we ensure that everyone here leaves satisfied?” He prompted us to consider what each individual wanted in a situation and to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.
  4. George taught things easily, implicitly, without trying to…... He believed very strongly in the Confusion “Way”. He advised never to push or force things. To know that if it were right and meant to happen, it will flow, without resistance. He would often ask, “What is the right and ethical thing to do here?”
  5. George helped us often to visualize the future with, “Just imagine if you could…..”, “What would you really like to see happen, if you could have the outcome you wanted”, and very soon, he helped us envision, plan and see that we could reach the outcome we wanted! 

For all this and much, much more that I learnt from George, I am always deeply grateful.

Some of my treasured memories are from the informal “walks and talks”, in Nature, be it around Horn Pond or Walden Pond in Boston, or an after dinner walk on the Cambridge Common, pondering about “Why are we here in this world?”, “What is the real purpose of Life?” And as we walked and talked, George would pause to reflect or to explain a plant or listen to a bird sound. Alberto and I also recall fondly the many thought-provoking conversations over Chinese dinners with George in different cities and countries, even in India! George’s preference was always for Chinese food!

When my son, Farokh, moved to Arizona, to go to Thunderbird, George was like a local guardian. He fetched Farokh from the airport, insisted on carrying Farokh’s heavy bag up to Farokh’s dorm, and taking him home for dinner, and then making sure he checked in and took him for dinner and conversations often. Thank you, George, wherever you are!

Alberto felt fortunate to know George’s favorite person, his mother. When George was getting the highest Award from SIETAR in Phoenix, Arizona, we secretly arranged for Alberto to drive and pick up George’s mother to surprise George by having her walk in, just as his Award was being announced. His mother also joined us at the luncheon celebration of Farokh’s graduation, after which George guided us all to explore the Grand Canyon, a place he loved and one that gave him much inspiration. And then on to a hilltop in Sedona, and in that magical place, with its Native people, George brought a spiritual sense to the group, with his silent awe.

So... hearing about George’s passing came as an unbelievable shock. There was something so permanent in what he stood for, something so solid in his support for others, and something so spiritual about his way of being, that we expected George to always be there---to turn to, to help us search for the Truth, to share, yes, to confide in, to reflect together, to laugh together, and to help us discover beauty in all places. George was a Master Coach and Counselor par excellence, naturally. These and many more memories of George will continue to inspire and enrich the lives of many of us, and he remains a role model, and for me the embodiment of being an “interculturalist”.

This was a man who lived the selfless life he felt he should be living, the one his God wanted him to live. Helping, serving, supporting, striving, and assisting others to aim for excellence. It is really fitting that George spent the last two years of his life, during the pandemic, writing two spiritual books, which may still be published. Thank you, George, for who you were and all you left behind with those whose lives you touched, and for supporting me, unstintingly, along my path.

Words may not capture the pristine nature of this special man,
Whose contributions, to people and thoughts, across many dimensions did span.
A gentle soul with a sacred purpose to fulfill,
Slipped away peacefully, leaving a void that’s hard to fill