“My advice on how to survive what life throws at you is to keep going despite the bumps, curves, ditches, detours and unpaved roads, and focus your attention and love outwardly and keep smiling. This is the way we went about our lives, living with cancer. We did the best we could under some very challenging circumstances. But, we tried to laugh, celebrate, love, and give our thanks to God, family and friends for helping us navigate life’s highway.”
– Lois Sambar
By Mary O’KEEFE
Chakib “Chuck” Sambar sits at his dining room table, which is lined with cards of condolence for the passing of his beloved wife Lois.
The cards are from the family, friends and former students of the long-time teacher. They thank her for her friendship, guidance and support, but it was her indelible spirit that comes through all the cards and emails.
Lois, 76, passed away last week after a long battle with cancer.
Normally referring to someone’s “long battle” brings images to mind of chemotherapy sessions and surgeries, and there was that with Lois, but there was also an amazing life filled with marriage, travel, volunteering, mom and grandma duties and returning to college for a doctorate.
“I hired Lois 41 years ago at Hoover [High School],” said Chakib.
Lois was married to William Neil at the time, Chakib to Mary who was also a teacher.
“Her family and my family lived close. She [and her husband] had two sons; I [and Mary] had three. Lois taught with Mary,” Chakib said. “She gave the eulogy for Mary.”
Lois’ husband died of cancer after 39 years of marriage, Chakib’s Mary died of cancer after 41 years of marriage.
“We discovered each other,” he said, after the death of their spouses.
Lois and Chakib were married nine years. Chakib is the former president of Glendale Unified School District; Lois was always at his side for every election. In the years since Chakib has been away from the school board, the couple had enjoyed every minute with each other.
“It was an incredible journey. We had a good time,” he said. “We traveled. We visited 42 countries.”
The Sambars were on the most traveled list for the Princess Cruise line.
“And every time we [traveled] we renewed our marriage vows,” Chakib said.
Lois had a long career in education with 26 years at Glendale Unified School District. She started as an English and journalism teacher at Hoover High School, instructional vice principal at then Clark Middle School, instructional vice principal at Glendale High and principal at Rosemont Middle School when it was named a National Blue Ribbon school in 1993. She was named Woman of the Year by the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2001.
She received her doctorate in education in 1994 from the University of La Verne.
“She did that while going through chemotherapy,” Chakib said.
Lois was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 19 years ago.
“Back then cancer was not [as] treatable,” Chakib said.
But Lois fought back and not only dealt with her own illness but she and her husband volunteered time at City of Hope to work with caregivers. Both she and Chakib had cared for their spouses and knew the stress, emotions and rewards that came with that decision to care.
“When it came down to teaching, I think that was the most rewarding and meaningful type of [education] we did,” he said. “Not taking anything away from teaching children [but] she loved that but both of us had been caregivers.”
It was Lois’ wish to remain at home instead of going to a hospital. Chakib said that decision allowed her to stay in comfortable surroundings with those who loved her. A few days before she passed away her grandchildren came by for a visit. She posed for a happy picture of her surrounded by the kids.
“I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” he said.
Chakib’s son, a U.S. Naval officer, wrote a letter to Lois that touched her heart. In it he said that he had met many brave people in his military career but when he speaks of bravery, Lois is often the topic of conversation.
For now Chakib reads through the cards and emails, and counts his blessings.
“I have been blessed to have two [remarkable] women in my life,” he said.
Services for Lois Neil Sambar will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose with Father Jack Foley officiating. Immediately following the service, a tribute reception will be held at Oakmont Country Club.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Dr. Neil’s name to: City of Hope, 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017.
www.cityofhope.org or Glendale Healthy Kids, 223 N. Jackson St. #107 Glendale, CA 91206-4334.
www/glendalehealthykids.org or Glendale Scholarship Endowment Fund, c/o Glendale Community Foundation, Box 313, Glendale CA 91209.