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The chair
The only true way to fight this is with ideas

By Dr. Abdol Hossein Samii
February 4, 2002
The Iranian

I am submitting this article for publication. As my father is deceased, comments about the article can be sent to me.
Ahmad Ali Ebtehaj Samii.

New York Hospital had a wonderfully unique tradition of presenting the resident staff that completed 2-3 years of post-graduate training at New York Hospital with the President's Chair. A brass plaque bearing, the name of the resident and the years of service to New York Hospital would be attached to the back of the chair. It is not known when the tradition was started, but it appears that the first chairs presented in the early 1930's after the hospital moved to its current Upper East Side location.

I want to share with you the events surrounding my New York Hospital President's chair. After graduating from Cornell University Medical College. I started my internship at New York Hospital during David Barr's last year as Chairman of the Department of Medicine and continued my residency in Medicine under the newly appointed Chairman of Medicine - Hugh Luckey. I always felt that training in Medicine was incomplete without some time spent in Boston, so after three years at New York Hospital, I moved on to Boston to complete my residency in Medicine at Mass. General Hospital with Walter Bauer and Fellowship in Nephrology at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital with John Merrill.

About the time I left New York, I was presented with the President's Chair -- which I took with me to Boston. Finally, after more than seventeen years in the U.S. I decided to return to my homeland to see what I could do to introduce modern medicine and particularly American Medicine to Iran. I won't go into that long story here, but look for the book that I am planning to write on my American-Iranian Journey.

At any rate, I shipped my New York Hospital Chair to Tehran. It arrived in Iran just at the time the government was imposing a strict economic policy, including very high tariffs on imported luxury items. Certain materials, such as foreign made furniture, were not even permitted into the country by the Customs Office.

Amazon Honor SystemShortly after arrival in Iran, I received a notice from the Customs Office that the chair from the United States would not be allowed to enter the country because of the recent regulations. The note indicated that the chair would he sent back to the US. However, I was not worried because one of my close friends who had received a doctoral degree in Economics in the US was Minister of Commerce overseeing the Customs Office. I went to see him and told him about my Chair which was sitting in the Customs warehouse and was not being released because it was considered to be a luxury item forbidden to enter the country.

My friend, the Minister, was still young and politically correct and innocent. Not only did he refuse to release my chair, but he was indignant, and admonished me for being so indifferent about the Iranian Law -- and for suggesting that he should make an exception to the regulation. I asked him if he had any suggestions. He said the best he could offer was to arrange for the Chair to auctioned off with other confiscated objects, instead of sending the chair back to New York Hospital. Knowing the fluidity of politics in Iran. I decided to buy some time by agreeing to have my Chair included in the next auction of the Customs Office.

Later, in a few weeks, before the auction ever took place, the Government suddenly changed and my friend, the Minister of Commerce, was moved to another government position. The new Minister of Commerce was a French-educated economist. Having been burned in my dealings with my American-educated friend, I hoped I would have a better chance with the new minister whom I had met only briefly. Because of his French education, I thought he would be more supple and flexible and not shocked by the mere suggestion of making a small and reasonable exception to the regulations.

When I arrived in his office, he was courteous, very elegantly dressed, offered me a cup of tea and listened enthusiastically to my sad story about the Chair. After I had finished, he did not say anything, but without a moment of hesitation picked up the telephone and dialled a number. He told someone on the other end to "immediately release Dr. Samii's chair and deliver it to his house."

He then turned to me and said he was surprised by the decision of his predecessor and that the law was not intended for such a Chair that held no commercial value. I was impressed by the flexibility of the French-educated Minister in sharp contrast to the rigidity of my law-abiding American-educated friend. At any rate, what was important was that now I was once again the proud owner of my New York Hospital Chair.

1978 was not a good year for Iran with demonstrations and strikes that led to the collapse of the 2,500-year-old Monarchy in Iran. On December 22, 1978 I left Iran just three weeks before the Shah and his family left the country. I decided that, with my high visibility as the Physician to the Royal family, and my prominent past government position, it was time for me to leave Iran.

In February 1979 Khomeini entered Iran, and with his arrival the country faced executions of many high officials and important businessmen and with widespread confiscation of properties. My house was occupied and the revolutionary guards removed everything in it. Similarly, my office was taken over. All of my assets were confiscated. In this horrific process, I also lost my President's Chair.

Less than 10 months later, I was back at Cornell New York Hospital with everything lost in Iran, except for the life of my immediate family. There was nothing I could do to get back my belongings, my professional life, my career and my identity. However, with the support of my friends and former colleagues at New York Hospital, especially Dave Thompson, a President's Chair with the original dates of my internship and residency on a brass plaque was presented to me.

With this generosity I did recover at least one of the thousands of our confiscated items. I am holding on to my President's Chair very dearly, and am pleased that the Iranian revolution, despite its long reach, could not take my American education or my new New York Hospital Chair.

Submitted by:
Ahmad Ali Samii
On behalf of A. H. Samii,. M.D. (1930-2000)
Professor of Clinical Medicine - (CUMC)
Attending Physician - New York Hospital-CMC
Former Minister of Science and Higher Education
Former Managing Director of Pars Hospital, Tehran, Iran
Chairman and Founder of the Imperial Medical Center of Iran

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ahmad Ali Samii

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