My 23 years with Wally

A letter from Jacob

Wally and I first met when he was 60 in a meeting room in the Dukes Road old office of Wolff Olins.

My feelings then were of the last hurdle to become part of a business that intrigued me, graciously combined strategy and design and undoubtedly promised to meet truly interesting people from very different backgrounds.

What I never thought on that sunny London day in April 1991 was that I was going to stumble with the person that would definitively shape me as a human being.

Wally first thought I was a Basque… God knows why. When he learnt that I was born in Tetuan, a tiny village in what once was Spanish Morocco, and that I am a Sephardic Jew, our relationship took a different twist. His Ashkenazi and my Sephardic roots opened endless conversations about one of our mutual interests: the very basic human need to belong and how this affected the Jewish people.

Wally and I enjoyed it because I respected his profound atheism and he respected me. We both manifested a classic Jewish trait: making jokes about ourselves. Endless evenings over a Havana and an Eau de Vie talking about my roots, his Russian and Polish origins, the importance of symbols to keep People united over more than 3,500 years, the fact that the Passover Seder is the longest uninterrupted tradition in human history, etc.

So, Wally, how would you describe yourself? I’m an atheist London Jew.

My stories and anecdotes can easily fill a book. 23 years side by side a colossus like Wally is the privilege I cannot easily describe in a single blog. He was truly a humanist. Constantly curious, erudite, approachable, generous, enormously intelligent and immensely witty.

Not everything was nice. We also shared tough times, like the devastating effects of the 1992-1993 recession, both on Wolff Olins and Wally personally, the profound sadness (but never rancour) about how he was treated many times over by people he trusted and helped both personally and financially, 2009-2010 at Saffron…

The last 14 years at Saffron were just fantastic. He insisted in calling me boss, although he knew ours could not be such a relationship. A former colleague branded it one of "elder and young".

There was nothing we did without consulting each other. From pitching to a client to advising on a book to read.

His last handwritten note to me is on his latest book: "for Jacob, my pupil, my longest lasting business partner, and above all my friend".