A seventy-eight year-old lady, entered my father’s majlis with her heritage that exceeds more than four decades, with her grizzled hair, her stature that lost a few centimetres and her voice calling soothsayer Bill Sarubby to attend. Time has taken its toll on her face which hides lots of stories and news. She is Mrs. Sue Seller, the secretary who worked with my father in London before the establishment of the UAE. We received her today at my father’s majlis in London, long after the last reunion with my father. She seemed, for a moment, as if she came from an old book.
I felt, while I was looking at her, what she meant by the word “coincidences” that led her to work with my father. It is a sort of situations that have been repeated in her life for many times; those coincidences were the ones that made this woman. Now she stands at my father’s majlis with generations of tales in her voice that I will not let slip away from me, rather I am going to grasp them and write them down. The first of these coincidences is her job application to Mr Alfred George in an engineering consultancy company operating in Abu Dhabi that supervised Abu Dhabi’s first Representative Office in London in July 1968. Because of her passion for architecture, Seller was among other candidates for the post. However, she had a job that she wouldn’t have thought of; working in an Emirate under development and the first Arab Union that’s been in the making. She said: When I entered the office the first time, there was nothing, no typewriter, no papers, no pens, not even a manager; there were only a few vases and a telephone.
Abu Dhabi Office in London
Her first career was when she joined the famous Harrods shop, where workers were required to wear black uniforms and to stand during working hours for a pay that doesn’t exceed three pounds and thirty-three shillings.
Mrs Seller said: “I started working at Harrods at the age of 17, and that was my first experience, and I worked there for about three months. Once, they sent me home because I was wearing red shoes. But I learned from that experience to be patient in dealing with different types and spectra of customers, from far and wide, abound in Harrods”.
I was listening to her, thinking that her work involved an unseen kind of grooming; she had to believe that wise saying: the customer is always right even if the seller was a Leo such as Mrs Sue Seller.
Her next job was at the Representative Office of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi at a stage when Abu Dhabi, represented by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (RIP), was about to lead a group of small Emirates into a strong union in a time of historical leadership that transferred the Emirate from poverty to wealth. She witnessed, during her work, many events and important personalities that gave Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general, with patience and diligence, their current image. Mrs Sue Seller worked with my father during 1968-1981 at the Representative Office of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and then at the UAE Embassy at 30 Princess Gate Street, which was purchased in 1970, before leaving work and traveling with her husband to New Zealand.
The embassy building needed full maintenance, Sue said, because it was abandoned, and it was only a house for pigeons. Coincidences, only appreciated by good fortune tellers, led her to meet her husband Jim Treadwell, former British ambassador to Abu Dhabi (1968-1971), she met him during her work at the Abu Dhabi’s Representative Office. Since the first moment he introduced himself briefly in a great politeness, she felt that he is going be the man of her life.
“I owe you for giving me this opportunity!”, said Sue as she was looking towards my father. “Without you I wouldn’t have met with Jim, who was not similar in his behavior to the narcissistic behavior of the diplomats and employees of the British Foreign Office in general, before Thatcher came, plucking out the peacock feathers from the men of the foreign service”, added Sue. Jim was very kind, courteous and polite and when he faced her he said quietly: “Hello Madam, I’m Jim Treadwell”.
Mrs Seller’s last meeting with my father was in 1996; two decades have passed since that meeting. But when she came today, she did not want to arrive without bringing her memories and photos of that ancient past as a gift; the past which rearranged her inner life, both at the career and family level. These photos preserved many memories, beautiful times and wonderful places, some featuring my father’s visit to Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan in January 1971 with her husband Ambassador Jim Treadwell to meet with Sheikh Zayed. The collection included photos with Sheikh Zayed besides photos at the Grand Gallery in Osaka, Japan, 1970. The meeting was of great importance because the Japanese were certain that they were in front of officials who represent the future prospects of a promising oil Emirate. Therefore, managers of oil companies in Japan organized a meeting between my father and his companions with the prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister and others.
The collection also included photographs dating back to 1969 of her husband with Sheikh Zayed, and other photos of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, Abdel Rahim Mahmoud, Sir William Ross and Geoffrey Arthur the Political Resident in Bahrain. Sue said, while identifying people in the photos by their names: “I grew old but the memory didn’t”.
There were photos of Ali Al-Shurafa, Khalaf Al-Otaiba, Hilal Al-Mansouri and photos of my father with Ahmed al-Mas’ood and with old Japanese Geisha. My father was looking at the photos, and when he came across his photo with the Japanese Geisha, I said: “The older the Geisha, the more luxurious she is, allegedly. If the Japanese want to show great respect for you, they surround your presence with a group of Geishas”. I recalled a similar situation that happened to me when I was the head of the delegation during an official visit to Japan.
“Sheikh Zayed visited our office at Bond Street, and then went to Scotland on a fishing trip with his son Sheikh Khalifa, and stayed there on a train prepared for him”, said Sue Seller.
My father asked her about her husband Jim. She paused for a moment before saying: “He died five years ago, and if he lived, he would now be ninety-five. He was ill in the last two years and I took care of him until he passed away”.
Those images drew forth memories and events that had a profound impact on my father’s recalling of many old memories. My father wanted to amuse her saying: “men on the Pakistan trip admired you, Sue”.
“Yes, I was covering my arms, but at the same time I was wearing a short dress” she said, smiling at him. “Perhaps, they liked my knees,” she added, laughing.
Talking about Sue’s husband was an occasion to recall a funny incident. Her husband, Jim, suggested that they visit the city of Gujarat in Pakistan, saying: “In Gujarat, you will see the most beautiful aspects of Pakistan”. “We went to Gujarat following the advice of Jim, but we only saw and encountered those women wearing the niqab. The majority of Gujarat women were housewives unable to leave except for necessity”, said Sue.
I moved with Sue and my father to the dining table, which was full of various dishes, different types of fish and a salad prepared by Mr Bu Watfa in which he added balsamic – Italian vinegar – and apple molasses.
“What is your favourite cuisine?” I asked Sue. She said immediately: I love fish, especially Fish fillet”. Thus, I knew that my father ordered her the dish she likes.
After we finished lunch, we had coffee and tea. Sue told us that she entered the Abu Dhabi Representation Office at 72 New Bond Street for the first time 47 years ago. The Office was deserted and only had a phone that looked lonely the other day. She had not yet met her manager, Mr Ahmed Al-Obaidli, who was in Abu Dhabi.
The office was a real and firmly established part of Abu Dhabi’s history before the idea of the union was fully developed. Sheikh Zayed visited the office in 1968 and in the following year he arrived on the first official visit to Britain and stayed at The Dorchester in The Oliver Messel Suite.
The office handled all the requirements of the Abu Dhabi Government following up the affairs of visitors, students, patients and the army. This led to increase in the pace of employment where many new employees joined the Office. Sheikh Zayed was on three days official visit (Thursday – Saturday) in July 1969, before it was extended to three weeks. On Friday, the second day of the visit, Queen Elizabeth invited the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed and my father to luncheon, where Queen Elizabeth, her husband Philip and Princess Anne were sitting on the other side of the royal table. The visit was concluded with observing “Trooping the Colour”; a parade performed by the Queen’s Guard to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.
The meeting was of great importance because of the economic strength of Abu Dhabi that comes from the amount of oil revenues of the Emirate. My father and Mrs Sue Seller were talking about memories, when she paused for a moment, recalling something she has always faced whenever she wanted to get a Visitor Visa to my father. My father’s birthday was in 1937; the same year of Sue’s birth. She often asked herself: “How did it happen to be the age of your manager, Sue Seller?”. She then asked my father if 1937 was his birth year. “How do you want me, Sue, to be sure of the year while I was born in a tent in Al Ain city?”, replied my father with a smile.
In the period of establishing the Emirate, my father sent H.E Mohammed Habroush, Minister of State in Abu Dhabi, to Cairo to submit an application for the UAE admission to the League of Arab States. At a closed meeting, the League agreed to add the UAE to its members on December 7, 1971, to become the 18th member of the League.
On the first visit to the United Nations, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, sent a delegation consisting of Adnan Pachachi, Ahmed Al-Obaidli, Mohammed bin Abdul Latif (from the Palace Office) and Ms. Sue Seller as secretary to submit an application for admission to the United Nations. That day, a vote was made on the UAE request and its membership in the United Nations was announced on 9 December 1971, with membership number 132. Burmese U Thant (1961-1971) was the Secretary-General at that time. Then Sue said bitterly: “When they took a photograph under the flag of the UAE outside the United Nations building, where the delegation gathered with the Secretary-General, I wished that I would be in that historical scene.”
On the next visit in September 1972, the delegation was headed by my father, who delivered a major speech in Arabic at the United Nations. Mrs Sue turned to me saying, as she tried to emphasize every letter:” If only you had heard the speech, Mohammed, you would have felt proud of the splendid words of your father over all the delegates.” Sue recalls that Nawaf Diab went out with my father, Abdul Rahim Mahmood and Mrs Frauke Heard-Bey, at the weekend, for an amazing tour in Long Island, which he knows well. It should be noted that this group of young people working in the nascent UAE has had good efforts in performing their work well. They did well in performing their duties under the wise leadership of Sheikh Zayed and the pillars of his state.