A visit to the White House

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Victor S. Farrah

The American Lebanese League (A.L.L.) was organized in 1975 in Washington, D.C., as a political action committee to aid the foundering democracy of Lebanon by Dr. Elias Saadi and Paul Corey, two dedicated men who were residents of Ohio.
Dr. Saadi is a renowned cardiologist from Youngstown, Ohio, and Paul Corey, a former effective lobbyist from Columbus, Ohio.
I had the honor of attending the first meeting of the A.L.L. in Washington and was elected a trustee and a member of the board of directors, as well as having the distinction of naming the organization A.L.L., with the idea of consolidating many Lebanese organizations into one powerful lobby to aid Lebanon. At the same time, we were hoping to serve U.S. interests in the Middle East. Dr. Saadi was elected chairman and Paul Corey president, and they were the force that generated the power of the organization in its early years.
In early April 1978, I received a phone call from Washington from the State Department, inviting me and my wife to a Cedar-from-Lebanon tree-planting ceremony and a meeting with President Carter. The gentleman requested our Social Security numbers and birth dates, to be used for security checks. Later, Dr. Saadi told me he and Paul Corey had planned this event to bring national attention to our group.
The board and officers were all invited to be at the White House at 2:15 p.m. on April 28, 1978. Nioma and I were very excited to be invited to meet the president of the U.S. We arranged with Dr. Saadi and his wife to fly from Youngstown to Washington and arrived on the morning of April 28, a bright, sunny day and perfect for planting a cedar tree in the White House garden. Naturally, I was overwhelmed by the White House, my first visit, and to know we were to be on national TV that evening.
We were ushered into the president’s office, and all of us were given a cordial introduction to the president. Dr. Saadi introduced me as the director from western Pennsylvania; and the president wanted to know the reason I appeared so much younger than he because our birthdays were on the same day and year: Oct. 1, 1924. I replied, “Mr. President, I am merely a Chevrolet dealer, without the weight of the entire world on my shoulders.”
Being the last person introduced, I took the opportunity to thank him for the peace effort that President Sadat of Egypt, Begin of Israel and he were negotiating. He said that he wished he could do more, but certain political pressures placed him in a position where he felt he would be a one-term president because of his support for a Palestinian homeland. He also explained that a secure and sovereign Lebanon, the only Christian country in the Middle East, was crucial to peace in that area. I was impressed by his sincere, friendly remarks; and in talking with him, I noticed he had aged since becoming the most dominant man in the free world.
Soon, his aides appeared, and we were ushered into the White House garden, where I stood near him and Dr. Saadi and Paul Corey as the president began to shovel the dirt for the cedar planting. All of us were inspired by the profoundly moving speech given by Dr. Saadi. He talked about the American Lebanese, their many contributions to our new country and the importance of all Lebanese being Americans first, but Americans with a proud and ancient heritage from the Christian democracy of Lebanon.
The affair was wonderful and joyous because we were able to establish a new friendship with a pleasant Lebanese gentleman, Clarence J. Shahid, from Charleston, S.C., and to be celebrities on national television that same evening. When I returned to my office in Pennsylvania, I was called by my congressman, who happened to be a sincere Jewish gentleman, and received his kind congratulations, as well as those from many others who called to offer their good wishes.
The most significant result of that Washington meeting was the transfer from our ancient homeland of a tree, a cedar of Lebanon, which was mentioned in the Bible many times, to the most important residence in our “new” homeland. This symbol of hope to the Lebanese people brings our people of America and Lebanon together, working for peace and all that is good for the citizens of the world.
April 28, 1978, was a memorable and beautiful day in my life, the day we honored two democracies — American and Lebanese. May God bless them always!
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Victor S. Farrah lives in Salisbury.