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City Life: Syrian doctor is a man of peace

As news of a protest over Dr. Hazem Chehabi’s appointment as the UC Irvine Foundation chairman came out last week, I remembered my time working with the Newport Beach doctor (“Opponents of Syrian government plan protest at UCI,” Oct. 29).

For about two years, I served as a business consultant to him. We met regularly.

We attended many meetings together, including the initial strategy session, during which time he conveyed his vision of his medical practice.

After working with so many physicians over the years, I admit to being skeptical about these statements, which I have found many times to be hollow declarations of quality and caring.


Instead, I was moved by Chehabi’s vision, which was a complete, unwavering commitment to providing the most scientific and compassionate care possible. Our professional association ended last year, and I must make it crystal clear that it was a healthy, clean break. That is, we owe each other nothing.

Following that initial meeting, we met many times professionally and also exchanged emails about our mutual appreciation of classical music.

Last year, during a difficult personal period, several members of his staff provided me with professional support that went above and beyond the call of duty. It was their kindness and their expertise that enabled me to make crucial medical decisions that ultimately led to a positive outcome.

In every sense, they fulfilled Chehabi’s desire for his practice.


Chehabi and his medical staff have played key roles in the diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses for about 20 years.

I know little about the situation in Syria beyond what I read in the Los Angeles Times and online. But I do know that his position as honorary consul is a purely nonpolitical role consisting of duties totally unrelated to any political, social or religious doctrine.

When notice of protests first surfaced about five months ago, Chehabi issued this statement: “Personally, I am opposed to the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and find no justification whatsoever in shooting unarmed civilians. I am saddened about the daily loss of life in Syria and hope to see it come to an end as quickly as possible.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some. Instead of respecting the wishes of a man who has spent his adult life trying to improve lives, both in the medical and social senses, they singled him out and pushed for his ouster as chairman of the UCI Foundation.

To his great credit, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake wasted no time in expressing his complete support for Chehabi.

“We join the world community in expressing outrage at the continued violence toward unarmed civilians in Syria and in demanding that the violence stop,” Drake said in the statement. “We appreciate Dr. Chehabi’s support of our university and our students over the years. We support his efforts and those of the broader world community in reaching a peaceful and just resolution.”

Chehabi is a decent and honorable man, a man of peace. He is a devoted husband and father. He has been a tremendous asset to Orange County through his many charitable endeavors and through his medical practice.

It was my great privilege to work with him and it is my great privilege to write now that I fully support whatever decision he chooses to make in the matter of the protests, even if that decision is to do nothing at all.


STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to