M. Nazmul Karim and M. Sam Mannan. | Image: Roy Sanders

Dr. Mahboobul Mannan, commonly known as Dr. M. Sam Mannan, was a friend of mine.  He died on September 11, 2018. It is one of the saddest days of my life, not because it was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but because the world lost a great fighter and proponent of safety in industries, whether it is for process safety or safety in garment factories, or on space shuttles. Sam was always advocating and teaching the next generation how to minimize accidents and develop a safety culture so that safety becomes second nature to us.  I will try to paint a picture and not write a history about Sam’s contribution to society.

Sam was born in Comilla, a southern district in Bangladesh. His high school education was from Dhaka College, and his B.S. in chemical engineering was from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka, better known as BUET. He studied Russian and Arabic as hobbies. He later took a job in Libya and spent a few years as a practicing engineer. Then, he realized he needed a graduate education; he went to the University of Oklahoma and studied thermodynamics.  He became a lifelong Sooners supporter! He got his Ph.D. studying under professor Kenneth E. Starling. It is at this time he observed the lack of safety training among engineers and managers. He joined RMT, Inc. in Austin, Texas, and started working in process safety. He left RMT to join Texas A& M University as the director of the newly created Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center in 1997, and thus began a journey in process and industrial safety that is unparalleled in the world.

I don’t have to tell you that Sam Mannan is known all over the world; whether it is in China, India, Malaysia, Colombia, Bangladesh or Qatar, he left his footprint everywhere by creating satellite centers in these places in his effort to change the safety culture in these countries. He was the go-to person the U.S. Congress turned to whenever there was an industrial accident in the U.S. (e.g. West, Texas).  He was involved in the analysis of the accident in a garment factory (Rana Plaza) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013 that killed more than 1,134 people. His recommendations have now been followed by the Government of Bangladesh.

Sam has trained 61 Ph.D. students and 79 M.S. students in his career at Texas A&M.  This is more than prolific by any standards. His teachings, mentoring and training of these students will have a lifelong impact on the safety practices in various chemical and other industries. These impacts are permanent. Countless lives will be saved.

Sam loved his family, in particular his two daughters, Rumki and Joya. He would tell all kinds of stories about how they grew up, and what they did as children and as young adults. Whether playing soccer or watching Aggie Football, he shared his life with them.

Personally, Sam was a friend, a great friend. Not only a buddy to watch the Super Bowl with but also to have deep conversation about life and what it is all about. Alas, before we could have another one of our deep conversations, he was gone! He is gone forever. I can only quote Tagore, our favorite poet: “Beyond the bounds of life and death, there you stand, Oh! My friend!” He is watching us, a tall figure, wherever he is now! I know I feel safe because of his contributions to the world.

I miss you, my friend.

-Naz Karim, a friend of Sam Mannan