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Immigrants often have fascinating stories

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

There has always been a fascination with immigrant stories — not about those who steal across any borders, but about those who come here to live the American dream and to immerse themselves into society, obeying the laws and giving back to their communities.

The enclaves in the big cities — the Germantowns, the Chinatowns, Little Italys and the Greek districts — I love ‘em all. New York has so many neighborhood restaurants where you get the flavor of the old country that you could spend a month moving about the city and still not visit half of those kinds of establishments.

Here in Jacksonville, there is a thriving Arabic community which has direct links to Ramallah, that troubled city in the West Bank which has often been in the news in recent years. There is the Ramallah Club of Jacksonville, a place for wedding receptions, social gatherings and celebrations. Last weekend, however, it was a sad occasion when the friends of Fred Farah Sr. gathered in final tribute to the one-time lineman for the University of Georgia.

Freddy Farah was born in Ramallah. His father came to America and settled in Jacksonville. His family joined him as time went by. The last to make it across the ocean from Jordan was Freddy and his mother, who became so sea sick she could not get out of bed. Freddy, who had to look after himself, knew two words of English: “Cokes” and “Hershey.” He lived on Hershey bars and Coca-Cola the entire voyage.

In Jacksonville, Freddy learned English in the streets. He also learned about the game of football. He became an outstanding lineman at Andrew Jackson High and was one of the happiest players in the city when Coach Wallace Butts offered him a scholarship. At Georgia, Freddy was one of the most popular players in Payne Hall. He was often the subject of good natured ribbing, and he enjoyed the fun and repartee. The players loved his gentle spirit and his great affection for humor. Because of his Middle East heritage, he was nicknamed, “Camel Driver.” Freddy didn’t mind. All that good natured kidding made him feel accepted by his peers.

After graduation, he returned home to Jacksonville and became very successful in business. Early on, he bought season tickets and drove to every home game in Athens. Then, with business success, he began charter flights to Athens. His devotion to the Bulldogs increased with each passing year. For years, on Friday nights before the Florida game, he and his pretty wife, Brenda, hosted the official traveling party of the Athletic Association. You never saw so much food and drink.

When he was playing for the Bulldogs, his mother often sent boxes of pastries to Freddy. He would open the package and yell for everybody to come to his room. Everybody streamed in and out, enjoying the tasty delights from his mother’s kitchen. Freddy wanted his teammates and friends to enjoy his bounty. They did.

While he didn’t experience much playing time when he was at Georgia, nobody enjoyed being a member of the team more than Freddy. It was a honor to him to be able to dress out for home games. He was proud of the red and black, and he was grateful for the educational experience he had at Georgia and frequently said that he wanted to repay UGA. When the Butts-Mehre building was being constructed, Freddy made a six-figure contribution and took pride in having the means to give back to his alma mater.

Once on a trip to Jerusalem, I called one of Freddy’s cousins in Ramallah who came to my hotel and picked me up to take me across the border into the West Bank. I invited Vince Dooley to join us. We saw the biggest street market on a Saturday morning that I have ever seen. Fruits, including robust oranges, and vegetables for at least the length of a football field. It made Freddy feel good that we journeyed over to see his relatives and birthplace.

Freddy Farah was a proud University of Georgia graduate.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.