A Run in With Royalty

Below is a brief passage that discusses a time I got to interact with Royalty. Now in Iran that can be either very good or very bad and you’ll just have to read below to find out which it was:

At the end of summer, our peaceful family life was shattered by a phone call from the office of her Royal Highness Princess Ashraf, the twin sister of the Shah. I was surprised and shocked to be told that I had to go to see the Princess’s viceroy, Mr. Ansari. When I asked the reason, the caller said it was not possible to say and they could only give me an appointment. My mind reeled. Who dares not to go? My heart was beating wildly, especially since I did not know why I was being summoned.

Princess Ashraf was known to be a person to be taken seriously and to be disobeyed at one’s peril. Fortunately, I had heard that her viceroy, who was a former minister of internal affairs, was an excellent administrator and more rational, and easier to work with. Anyway, on the day of my appointment, I drove to his office in downtown Tehran, not an easy task to drive such a distance when I was eight and a half months pregnant. At that time I really was looking very large, much bigger than the first pregnancy. It seemed to me that baby boys were heavier than baby girls. I arrived on time, and the secretary immediately led me to the office of Mr. Ansari. He was a very polite man, graying slightly, and he received me with a smile. My heart was beating hard as he stared at me and my appearance. I sat across from him, and he began by inquiring about one of my cousins—Kouros whom he knew very well because he used to work with him. After establishing this family connection, he began to explain to me that he had good news for me. He said that Princess Ashraf, as the honorary president of the Women’s Organization, had ordered all university human resource departments in Iran to send all personnel files of women professors to her office for review. After reviewing these files, she had selected me for the position of secretary-general of the Women’s Organization. She herself would serve as honorary president. I am sure that he expected to see an expression of happy acceptance from me, but I was quiet while I recovered my wits. Then I said, “May I ask what was the princess’s criteria for selecting me?” He replied, “Your education, background, and achievement.”

The princess wanted to reorganize the Women’s Organization. She wanted the women of Iran to understand and value the rights that her brother the Shahanshah had given them. And since I had studied psychology, she thought that I could educate and change the behavior of women. It was a shock for me to think of taking on this enormous responsibility, especially in connection with my beliefs and my own situation within my family. In my ideal and independent life, I did not want to accept any administrative position. I was not involved or active in any women’s organization—just the opposite. I was fighting for the social justice, for the equal role of women as human beings just like men, within a family setting or in society, and not in a separate setting. In addition, I had another issue to think of, my responsibility toward my new baby and my family. So I thanked Mr. Ansari for the honor of selecting me and requested that he kindly ask the Princess to excuse me from the job because of my pregnancy. I added that I would instead volunteer to help the Women’s Organization as consultant, especially in combating illiteracy in women. I told him I already worked in the Charity Organization of the Shahbanou. After several arguments back and forth, Mr. Ansari, finally agreed to discuss the matter with the princess and maybe to excuse me from this position. It was a long meeting, and I became very tired, but I was relieved to think that hopefully Princess Ashraf would not press the appointment in view of my reluctance.

TO read more follow up with Chapter 11 in my book.

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What America Became for Me Finale

My final segment in this series is in honor of the impending holiday in celebration of when I was finally granted US citizenship.

Fortunately, my faith in the values of a good education paid off in the summer of 1979 when the United States government granted me permanent residence as a person of exceptional ability and international renown. I accepted my first job offer as Center Director at Lynchburg Training School and Hospital (now known as Central Virginia Training Center). After one year my whole family became permanent residents of the United States. As Center Director, I had the good fortune to work with a dedicated staff of approximately 220 people who cared for 267 developmentally disabled persons and was responsible for the implementation of appropriate policy and procedures of the Center in addition to organizing and managing the financial, physical and human resources of the staff in realization of center’s goals and objectives.

During those years, I had to make the difficult decision of whether to become a citizen of the United States. In order to become a citizen, I had not only to believe and accept the American way of life, but I also had to renounce my Iranian citizenship. The first part of my decision was simple, because accepting the United States as a new home had already taken place in 1979. However, the test of being a U. S. citizen was not in loving this new country, but in renouncing the one that had been a part of my life for so long. Becoming a citizen does not just mean a new home. To me it means accepting the founding principles of this country that are so similar to the principles I fought for in Iran for many years. It means living in a country where my son, Reza, can realize his dreams and my daughter, Gita, hers of being a lawyer. When I asked, Gita, how she would summarize why she wanted to become a U. S. citizen, she spoke from my family’s heart when she said “good citizenship does not mean a passive acceptance of laws and rights our founding fathers gave us two centuries ago, but rather demands an active acceptance of these endearing values by taking the responsibility to uphold the principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States.”

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What America Became for Me Pt. 3

Here is the next installment in my series about becoming a U.S. citizen as we get closer to the 4th of July.

Embracing freedom

In the summer of 1966, the United States National Science Foundation offered me a fellowship at the University of Michigan, an opportunity for me to finally visit the country I had read so much about. As you know, 1966/7 was a time of unrest for America as the Civil Rights movement was surging ahead. As a foreigner, I was shocked to find that the America I had idealized for so long, was in a state of upheaval because of discrimination and prejudice that seemed to question the principles of equality and freedom which had been so firmly expressed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I returned to the United States the next year as a Fulbright Scholar visiting professor and was impressed to find that the American people were even more ardently supportive of the Civil Rights movement than the previous year.

Inspired by the magnitude of reforms that were taking place in the United States, I returned to Iran convinced that Iranians could also overcome their prejudice against working and educated women. Thus, I became involved with the women’s rights movement in Iran, finally being elected Secretary-General of the Women’s Organization of Iran in 1969. From 1969 to 1971, I established and supervised more than 150 Family Welfare Centers (House of Women) throughout Iran. Although proud of the family welfare systems, I felt that the country needed a firm education base geared towards strengthening these special centers. Therefore, I established Shemiran College in order to offer specialized programs of pre-school education, family counseling, welfare administration and special education. There I served as president until 1979 when the Islamic Revolution broke out and the government shut down all educational institutions. The Islamic government proclaimed that it was no longer interested in what the universities and colleges had to offer since they believed that the Islamic teachings of the Koran were sufficient for Iran’s educational needs. After the return of Khomeini to Iran, it became clear that the government’s purpose was to oppress its people in the name of God, freedom and equality for all. Betrayed by my own government’s abuse of these sacred principles, I saw no alternative but to leave the country. We left Iran with 20 pounds of luggage, thinking that we might return when the hype had died down. Although we left with our dreams and with little to show for them, we left with a warm feeling, willingly accepting what was to be our new country, America.

When I reflected upon the bygone years, I thought of my visits to America where hearts were warm and spirits free, a land where freedom and equality were the underlying principles of its government and a country whose people had chosen to replace discrimination with love and understanding, and I knew America was the only place in the world where I would want to live and raise my children. Among other things, the American Constitution guaranteed its citizens that their rights to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” In fact, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence guaranteed my family and me the many rights that the Iranian government did not consider important.

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What America Became for Me Pt. 2

What it means to me and my family to be citizens of the US

Our family citizenship was completed on July 4, 1986 at historic Monticello. Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution welcomed us with a flag of our new country and a Manual for Citizenship which included all the information necessary for a new citizen- from the early history of America to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance and other useful information that I still refer to today. After the ceremony, we left Monticello and returned home to Lynchburg to celebrate with typical food of our two countries and finished with a cake made by a friend in the shape of a Map of the United States, which they asked us to cut while singing the national anthem.

One of my colleagues, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, invited me to address her chapter in Brookneal on the subject “What it means to me and my family to be citizens.” I was proud to accept and on April 6, 1987, the 200th year anniversary of the Constitution, I spoke at the regular meeting of the chapter. The speech was good enough for the Brookneal Union Star to publish it with the headline “New American Describes What It Means to Her and Family to be Citizens.” I described the developments that led to my decision to become an American citizen explaining that I first came across America through my textbooks in school. My first feelings toward America were those of awe and admiration, for my textbooks painted a picture of a trouble -free land where freedom and equality were as native to its people as was my quest to establish these American ideals in the country of my birth, Iran.

As a young woman, I was aware of the inequalities and lack of rights that existed in Iran, particularly towards women. Therefore, my aim was to promote the image of women in Iran crushing the image of women as helpless, weak and uneducated human beings. Now, when I look back, I realize that my dreams were not unlike those of our founding fathers whose concern was for all Americans to reap the benefits of freedom and equality. I wanted every Iranian woman to have the opportunity to excel in her own right and to never be denied the opportunity to fulfill her dreams because of her sex. I found that the best weapons to fight injustice was good education and hard work. Therefore, I concentrated on excelling in my studies by receiving my Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, a post doctoral from the University of London, and going on to become the first woman professor at the National University of Iran.

Next week I will continue this four part series leading up to the 4th of July in honor of U.S. independence and my citizenship.

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What America Became for Me Pt. 1

Leading up the celebration of American independence on the 4th of July I would like to share a few segments of my book, which reflect my experience in America. The week of the 4th I will share a summary of why it is so meaningful for me to have citizenship in this country, but for now how about a little background.

“All of these shocking daily reports of Iran motivated me to work very hard in preparing my résumé and getting a copy of all my educational and professional background and publications for immigration and employment. I called and wrote letters to the University of Heidelberg, University of London, US National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Commission advisors, and the dean and the chancellor of Syracuse University with which we had exchange programs, and the other professors who had come to Iran and witnessed my professional activities. As expected, I could not obtain any information from my troubled country about my undergraduate studies. At the same time, since I was near Washington DC, I called the US Department of State and USIS to find the address and telephone number of the former US cultural attachés to Iran whom I knew. Fortunately, I found the two of them, one was Dr. Dorothy Robin Mowry, who immediately returned my call. She was happy that I could get out safely from Iran and immediately invited me for lunch at the International Club. Later, the former cultural attaché Bill Meyer, who was retired, invited me to his condo in DC. At the lunch at the International Club, I was also happy to see Dr. Carolyn Spatta, the former president of the Damavand College in Iran. We exchanged our experiences in leaving Iran. Carolyn and Dorothy had both left Iran before the revolution, and since I came immediately after the revolution, they were very anxious to hear more about it. Carolyn, like me, was looking for a job but without my problem of residency and work permit. Anyway, the lunch meeting was very informative and helpful. Very soon after that, Carolyn came to see me at David’s house. In our informal conversation, she told us that one of her former professors at Damavand College, Dr. William Goodman, was at Lynchburg College in Virginia and suggested that I send him my résumé, and using the records I had already obtained, including documents from Heidelberg and London, to inquire if they had any job openings. So every day, I placed several phone calls, mailed job applications, and sent letters of support on my professional and educational background to prospective employers, including Dr. Goodman at the Lynchburg College.

Gradually, I received positive responses to most of my letters and telephone calls. However, some people that I contacted now treated me differently, perhaps because of the change in the political climate and the revolution, and acted strangely. Some friends of mine in Iran did not bother to respond to my calls and letters. After all, I must have looked like a jobless immigrant from a troubled country and not like a college president of a strong and prosperous country. Fortunately, as a psychologist, I understood their position. People react differently to change and especially to a sudden change like our unique revolution. In fact, I was very surprised by the behavior of one particular person that I still vividly remember. He used to be dean of a US college, and as an international colleague and friend, we visited each other in Iran and the USA. He answered that he had bad news because he was no longer the dean and, as a result, was very sick and depressed. I asked him, “Are you still teaching as a tenure track professor?” He said, “Yes, of course.” I could tell from his voice how depressed and sad he was, and I tried to cheer him up by pointing out that, in Germany, most professors were happy not to have any administrative responsibilities to devote more time to their research and that he too should look at this as a positive stage of his career. From that point on, I was calling him to extend help, rather than asking him for any assistance. I thought about the irony of the situation. Here I had no job, home, country, and identity, and was wandering in the United States, yet I was the one to help this American friend emotionally. I was surprised to see how people’s tolerance levels could be so different to the failures and barriers in their lives.”

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The Global Change We Need

I recently re-watched a video that I always find inspirational featuring a speech from a Charlie Chaplin film overlaid with images from modern times. The overall message is that each one of as individuals has the power to be the change we want to see in the world. Correcting ourselves is the first step towards correcting the world. This summary from the last page of my book helps add to what I mean and the video is featured below that.

“I end my book with a sincere hope that the industrialized countries, in their globalization quest, would think not only of their own economic advantages and gains, but temper their decisions with consideration for the rights of the ordinary citizens of the world and humanity at large, especially those living in countries in the Middle East and Africa, whose lands are rich in natural resources, but whose countries are not fully developed yet. I pray and hope that they always remember the poem displayed in the United Nations building by the great Persian poet Saadi:

The children of Adam are the limbs of one body
That share an origin in their creation
When one limb passes its days in pain
The other limbs cannot remain easy
You who feel no pain at the suffering of others
It is not fitting for you to be called human

With Human Rights of ordinary people protected, according to the American Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty and justice for all,” there will be no more need for violence and the never-ending wars on terror, and the people and countries of the world will be able to live together in peace and harmony. Humanity’s grand symphony of life will then profusely blossom magically and melodiously, and this will compliment my very own symphony of life.”

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The 2,500 Years Celebration of Persia

Years ago I was able to take part in the amazing 2,500 Years Celebration of Persia and to this day it is one of the most memorable times of my life. Below is a short introduction to that celebration from my book and some sample videos in a couple of different languages to give you a glimpse of that wonderful time.

“The number of tourists visiting Iran was increasing, and we ourselves were receiving many visitors – friends and colleagues from universities in Germany, England and the USA. Some of them wanted to visit the old capital of Persia, Isfahan, and even attend the yearly Shiraz Art Festival that our queen, Her Majesty Shahbanu Farah, was promoting. In her memoir, she wrote that in her opinion, there is no better stimulus for a democracy than a flourishing culture. The whole feeling of the country was generally positive and upbeat.

Since Iran was gradually becoming a more developed country, their Majesties thought it was time to celebrate the country’s independence and it’s 2,500 years glorious history. The queen herself assumed the chairmanship of the celebration, with planning for an entire year before the celebration. Heads of state from all countries were invited for the three-day event at Persepolis near Shiraz, the site of the first city of the Achaemenian (Hakhamaneshian) Persian empire during the time of Darius I and Cyrus the Great between 518 and 516 BC. The old city of Darius and Cyrus was looted and burnt by Alexander when he attached in 330 BC, leaving only magnificent ruins that have lasted throughout the centuries. The Shah saw himself as heir to the kings of ancient Persia, and this celebration was to be a great event for all countries to observe the glorious history and richness of Persia and of the present-day Iran. However, at the same time, actions by the Shah seemed too arbitrary to many and provoked both religious leaders (like Khomeini) who feared losing their traditional authority, and students and intellectuals seeing democratic and political reforms. These groups opposed the Shah and criticized him for violating the constitutional monarchy and for the money spent on the celebration.

In any case, this huge, unique celebration at Persepolis did take place and brought to the whole world a glimpse of a great country and its 2,500 years of history. The celebration involved a united effort and was at great expense to show the Pahlavi era as a period of renaissance for the Iranian civilization. As a result, the whole country underwent a massive reconstruction. Two thousand and five hundred elementary schools were built in the villages, and modern hotels and other buildings, monuments, new roads and highways were added. In addition, there were many art and historical exhibitions, and national and international conferences about Iran and the history of Persia during that year. For the site of the celebration at the ruins of Persepolis, appropriate accommodation, transportation, and security had to be arranged and provided for the heads of the countries and their staff. A tent city was built, which included tent headquarters for each head of state and a very large tent about 68 meters long and 24 meters wide (1,632 square meters) for the gala dinner and other events. I was notified that, as the secretary-general of the Women’s Organization of Iran, I had been selected by the empress to serve as lady in waiting to the wife of the president of India, Mrs. V.V. Giri, during their stay for the celebration October 12-15, 1971, and Massumi was assigned to with the president himself. It turned out to be an interesting and memorable assignment.”

That is but a preview of what is in my book related to this topic. There were so many great stories from that event and even that year as a whole.

Here is a video that will give you a better idea of what happened followed by a link with information about Cyrus I:

Also view this homage to Cyrus the I:


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