By William K. Alcorn
Dr. Elias T. Saadi, after decades of trying, has won Lebanese citizenship, an act that he said completes his identity.
Outgoing Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, in his final hours in office, issued a special decree granting Lebanese citizenship to Dr. Saadi and his son, Atty. Edward Saadi of Poland.
“We’re humbled that President Sleiman saw fit to bestow this honor,” said Atty. Saadi.
“I have strong feelings about receiving citizenship. I wanted my identity because that’s who I am,” said Dr. Saadi.
He also has strong feelings about being an American.
He founded the American Lebanese League, which he said is the second-strongest lobby in the United States from the Middle East.
“We decided we were 100 percent Americans of Lebanese descent. There is no hyphen in the organization’s name. I don’t believe in a hyphenated America. We are a unique country. We are Americans. I think hyphens are divisive and ruining the melting pot,” Dr. Saadi said.
“Each of us has to bring our very best to the table, then we’ll be able to restore the America that our ancestors came here for,” he said.
“The first thing my parents wanted to do when they immigrated here was learn English. My father, who came here from Lebanon in 1913, never went to school — not one day. He started working in the steel mills at 14 and eventually went into the dry-goods business and started dabbling in real estate. He was the spokesman for the Lebanese community in this area,” Dr. Saadi said of his father.
Despite his American-first feelings, Dr. Saadi has been a leading activist for the freedom and sovereignty of Lebanon for many years.
In his decree naturalizing Dr. Saadi, President Sleiman said the doctor traveled repeatedly to Lebanon at great personal risk during the 1970s and 1960s, and brought Lebanon’s cause to the highest levels of the U.S. government.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter conducted a ceremony at which he and Dr. Saadi planted a Cedar of Lebanon in the White House Rose Garden, where it remains to this day as a living symbol of the ties that bind the two nations together.
In 1986, the Ambassador of Lebanon traveled to Youngstown to present the National Order of the Cedar — Lebanon’s equivalent of the American Presidential Medal of Honor — to Dr. Saadi at the Maronite Center.
“I found it ironic that I could receive the Order of the Cedar but not citizenship,” Dr. Saadi said.
Atty. Saadi also became a force as part of a small group of volunteer lobbyists who pressured Congress to pass the Syria Accountability Act, which called for U.S. sanctions on Syria until it ended its occupation of Lebanon.
The bill passed the House and Senate, but it was heard President George W. Bush might veto the legislation.
So Atty. Saadi got in line to talk to Bush during a campaign stopover at the Youngstown-Warren Airport in 2003.
“I told him that Ohio is home to 200,000 voters of Lebanese descent who expected him to sign [the bill], and dreamed of Lebanon’s liberation,” Atty. Saadi said.
A major roadblock to Dr. Saadi’s getting his citizenship was that his father, Tufic, left the property he owned before 1920. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, and the modern Lebanon documents, which the Saadis did not have, were needed to prove Tufic was a citizen and therefore, Dr. Saadi was a citizen.
He said the family has some property, including his father’s ancestral home, but in order to do anything with it, he had to be a citizen.
“It’s something I want to give to my children,” he said.
Dr. Saadi and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Abraham, have six children: Atty. Edward T. of Poland; Elias Jr. of Liberty; Phillip in Florida; George in Los Angeles; Joseph in St. Louis, Mo.; and Margaret Kramer of Los Angeles.
As a youth, Dr. Saadi loved cars and wanted to become an auto mechanic.
However, his parents, Tufic and Victoria Saadi, had other ideas. They wanted a Lebanese physician in the Lebanese community.
So Dr. Saadi, 82, who grew up on Shehy and Pearl streets on the East Side and graduated from Ursuline High School in 1950, did not become an auto mechanic.
Instead, he became the first Lebanese physician in Youngstown.
Dr. Saadi graduated from Youngstown College in 1953 and from Georgetown School of Medicine in 1957 and did his residency at St. Elizabeth Hospital. He took a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic and St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
He was an innovator in the cardiac field.
In 1986, Dr. Saadi founded the Ohio Heart Institute, one of the first free-standing comprehensive cardiac-care centers in the United States.
“My work was to keep cardiology care in Youngstown on a pace with the leading centers around the country,” he said.
For example, in the 1950s, Dr. Saadi went to a medical conference at which a paper was presented on an experimental new machine, a defibrillator.
His interest piqued, he got the plans for the defibrillator, and engineers at St. Elizabeth built a machine.
Soon after, a friend of Dr. Saadi’s had a heart attack at Southside Hospital.
He started external massage and the heart started beating, but when he stopped, his friend’s heart stopped, too.
Dr. Saadi had the police deliver the defibrillator from St. Elizabeth to Southside. He shocked his friend’s heart and brought it back to a normal beat and he lived.
The Vindicator headline at the time was “Doctors bring man back to life.”
Dr. Saadi, who retired July 4, 1999, played a role in developing many techniques used by cardiologists today to save lives, including CPR, heart catheterization, angioplasty and bypass surgery.