Jose in his all too brief retirement in Portugal with his beloved dogs
“ Best of all, he was practical; he knew how to follow the spirit of a rule when, for operational imperatives, the letter of the rule had to be broken.”
By David Derthick
A WAVE of sadness swept IOM this week at the passing of Jose Pimentel. From Ghana to Guatemala and all points in between, the organization paused to reflect on this remarkable man. How, the question was asked in corridors and cafes throughout the world, could a colleague be so highly esteemed in equal measure for professionalism and friendship? How could the mere mention of his name elicit such warm smiles and spark such rich stories?
“I first met Jose” — the stories often begin, and mine does as well — at the IOM office in downtown Nairobi on a Sunday morning in 1997. He’d just arrived at the mission, and promptly got mugged walking from the Hilton to the office. Looking shriveled, broken glasses askew and a bloody bandage on his head, my first impression – “he won’t last” – couldn’t have been further off-mark. We quickly learned that Jose got things done – and done the right way. Armed with skills honed at Price Waterhouse and as the financial manager at an Angolan mining company, Jose embodied the very best qualities of an IOM Resource Management Officer. He pro-actively engaged program units, and assisted them in implementing projects in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Best of all, he was practical; he knew how to follow the spirit of a rule when, for operational imperatives, the letter of the rule had to be broken.
Kosovo at the turn of the century was a watershed period for IOM, and for the people who worked there. It established the organization as a major player in humanitarian emergencies; it was the test and training ground that launched careers (and romances); and it served as the ‘blood brothers’ experience that bonds many within IOM today. Seven offices, dozens of projects, millions of dollars and hundreds of staff working in a stressful and physically demanding environment — it was IOM at its best and, of course, Jose was right in the middle of it. If you had a question; if you had a problem; if you needed a mess cleaned-up — you went to Jose. And sometimes, when you needed a kick-in-the-ass, he was there as well (but usually with a loving boot). Unfailingly, stories about Jose are marked with signs of his integrity, strength and willingness to make hard decisions. He did not suffer fools and he did not mince words. Jose spoke and wrote in a direct manner, regardless of audience, and we loved him for it because that blunt honesty made us recognize anew that the serious and sometimes lifesaving nature of our work should not be deterred.
Jose’s passing has inspired messages from around the world, a reflection of the many lives he touched during his last decade with IOM as a globe-trotting internal auditor. Amidst the expressions of sadness are a host of reminisces so vivid and strong that it’s clear Jose will remain alive in our thoughts and memories for many years… cooking bacalau with Ana… tending his dogs and cats… playing the generous host – impish smile, twinkling eyes, “Come my friend (my brother, my sister, my daughter), join me for a glass of good red wine, and let’s talk.”
David Derthick is a Senior Humanitarian Advisor for IOM