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Saba Shami, A Giant in Virginia and Arab American Politics, Passes

posted on: Sep 17, 2020

By: Fred Shwaery/Arab America Contributing Writer

It is with profound sadness that we report the passing of a giant in the Arab American and Palestinian community, Saba L. Shami.  He passed away on September 17 after a bout with cancer at the age of 65.

Saba was influential in local, state, and national politics.  Long recognized as an expert in US and Middle East politics, Saba served in many capacities.  Virginia Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine called on Saba to join their administrations and he stepped up to serve the Commonwealth.

Senator Tim Kaine (VA) issued the following statement on Facebook, “Heartbroken at the death of my friend Saba Shami, who fought cancer with the same bravery and spirit he brought to his incredible public service. If you met Saba even once, you would never forget him — always trying to help others and a friend to all.  My thoughts go out to Amira and their children.”

In his many assignments, Saba served as the Chief Deputy Commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Director of the Virginia Taskforce for Business Development with the Near East; Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles where he founded the Office of Outreach (served as its first Director);  Director of Special Projects for the Virginia Port Authority; and Chief Deputy Director, Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. 

These experiences served him well.  He could call just about any Virginia elected official directly.  Everyone knew him and looked forward to hearing from him. 

Most important was Saba’s behind-the-scenes work.  Saba helped so many Arab Americans get through a difficult situation.  His willingness to help others was hard to match. 

Arab America President Warren David said, “When one speaks of Virginia politics, Saba’s name always comes up. He was everyone’s cousin.”  Further, David said, “His life’s work is his legacy.  He will be remembered for engaging Arab Americans in the political process, the changes in foreign policy he so passionately advocated for, and his inspiration to Arab Americans seeking political office.”

Saba spoke many dialects of Arabic which made him a very popular speaker.  He had an uncanny ability to connect people and he knew everyone’s relatives.  The ability to speak many Arabic dialects made him in demand as a political commentator on Middle East television.  Every week, he appeared throughout the Middle East on news and political television shows. 

Between government assignments, Saba created Washington Works LLC, a lobbying and public affairs firm where he served as an advisor to the Ambassador of Morocco and to the Head of the (Iraqi) Kurdistan Regional Government.

Saba also founded the New Dominion PAC and the Arab American Democratic Caucus of Virginia.  He developed these organizations to support the needs and values of Arab Americans.  Elected officials from all corners of Virginia value and seek endorsement from the PAC and the Caucus.  The PAC’s annual Arab American Candidates’ Nights have been sold-out events for 30 years.  Getting to address the hundreds of Arab Americans at these dinners was a prize that both elected officials and challengers sought.

Saba Shami with his friend and colleague, Senator Tim Kaine Saba Shami with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and his wife Amira.

Saba came to the US from his home in Haifa.  He studied Philosophy and Peace Studies at Bethany Theological Seminary and earned a B.A. in Social Sciences from Goshen College.  Saba is a graduate of the Virginia Executive Institute, a senior management program sponsored by the Office of The Governor of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University

Saba leaves behind his loving wife, Amira Mazzawi Shami, and sons, Yousef Shami and Amir Shami.  He will be dearly missed by his family and all of his “cousins.”


Saba Shami Burial, September 21, 2020 from Arab America on Vimeo.

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