Being a man for others, according to James Lafferty

Being a man for others, according to James Lafferty

There are stories of outstanding Filipinos whose lives are worth emulating, and there are those of foreign nationals who have made such a difference for Filipinos that they stand out just as well.

Meet James Michael Lafferty, head of multinational company British American Tobacco (BAT), whose life story is one for the books as it is filled with lessons on giving that people can take inspiration from.

In October 2006, Lafferty saved a stranger’s life. The man, 76-year-old Romeo Silva of Lipa, Batangas, was in line at the Nagoya airport with his son for a connecting flight when he suddenly slumped to the ground because of a heart attack.

Lafferty, who happened to be at the airport, too, saw the man fall to the ground and wasted no time in rushing to Silva’s aide to administer CPR.

“Through the grace of God, I was able to breathe into his mouth and pound on his chest and save his life; to give him another 2,999 days of life,” he recounts of that fateful episode.

He adds, “I learned that a total stranger can change your life with a singular act. I certainly believe that meeting Romeo, even under the unique circumstances, changed us both for the better. I met an amazing man, a man who raised a wonderful family and who dedicated his life to the education of children. I am a better man having met Romeo Silva,” he said.

In an interview with The STAR, Lafferty said that everyone could have three options for personal legacy. For him, it’s about helping other people.

“We can make the world a better place; we can leave the world as we found it; or we can make the world a worse place. It is all a matter of choice. I have tried my best to make the world a better place. And the single best way to do this is to help others,” he said.

He said that there is always someone in need and someone worse off than us.

“I find helping others a cathartic experience as it makes me appreciate the many blessings I have. In my observation, the most unhappy and miserable people I know are the most selfish and inwardly focused people. Because they are so consumed with their own issues and problems, they lose perspective on how lucky and blessed they truly are. The route to happiness and fulfillment in this life is to serve others,” Lafferty said.

The chance to help Silva was not the only opportunity for Lafferty to help others.

“I have tried to make the world a better place through serving others. So yes, while I do not wish to brag, I do believe I have a long history of serving humanity in all kinds of means,” he said.

In 2007, for instance, he took in a Filipino orphan.  

“I just wanted to help, I did not count on falling in love. That sick little baby became my son. And I decided I would change my life plans and while I could not save the world, I would save one. So I went through a four-year process of adoption and today, seven-year-old Kenji Ramos Lafferty is my son, a bright and handsome Fil-Am and the apple of my eye,” Lafferty said. 

He also saved a kidnapped teenager in Nigeria by leading a hostage negotiation and eventual drop and rescue.

“I wrote my children a goodbye letter before I went to drop the ransom in the middle of the night in a highly dangerous area in Lagos, Nigeria. I told them that I loved them and that if I did not come back, they needed to know that saving a young boy I did not know was the right thing for me to do. I went to the dropping point holding $300,000 in cash and was forced to kneel with a shotgun cocked against my head. I survived and we got the boy back alive. He now studies in London and is now engaged. We meet every time I am back in London. He got his life back from a brutal kidnapping,” he shared.

There are times when making the world a better place is also less dramatic, he said.

He teaches for free at the University of the Philippines and sponsors national athletes through his “Adopt an Olympian” program, aiming to bring home a gold medal in the Olympics (home being the Philippines).

Lafferty recalled all these lessons of giving when he received news of the recent passing of Silva last Jan. 10, 2015,  or 2,999 days since he saved the man’s life from cardiac arrest.

“Time catches us all. Romeo passed away at 82 years old. He died peaceful and happy with a life fully lived. Happy he left the world a better place. Happy to have raised such a lovely family. And I hope happy for having lived a second life, those last 2,999 days since we met,” he said.

Giving, Lafferty stressed, is actually receiving.

“I learned, once again, that giving is actually receiving. The CPR was long, arduous, and a bit more intimate in a sense than what anyone would be comfortable with. But it is also an indescribable feeling to know that this simple act saved a life. I have received far more in joy and personal satisfaction than I expended in the act of helping,” he said.