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Published: Saturday, 3/25/2000

Najib Sallume: Soldier, explorer, diplomat, he was doctor to many in early Toledo


Najib Sallume cut a dashing figure in Toledo. The elegantly dressed bespectacled man with a luxuriant white scroll-like mustache delivered many of the Arab babies in Toledo, calling on patients in an Arabian horse-drawn buggy.

Fred Saba, the doctor's godson, remembers the dynamic man who walked with a cane and later drove a blue electric car. "He was very stately. When he was in a room, all attention was on him."

Toledo not only lured Syrian artisans and merchants but also drew the distinguished Dr. Sallume from Damascus. The learned doctor - a former diplomat who was said to have spoken ancient and modern languages - sought a safe haven from the palace intrigues of the sultan's court of the Ottoman Empire.

Born in Damascus in 1868, the son of a Presbyterian minister entered the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut - in 1920 its name changed to the American University in Beirut.

Dr. Sallume was the first Christian of his era to receive military honors from the Turkish regime, who conferred on him the rank of general. He acted as a decorated military attache and diplomatic envoy in European and Asian courts. He is said to have conducted an expedition across the Arabian desert for the Royal Scientific and Geographical Society in 1893.

The diplomat became connected with the political movement known as the Young Turks, a coalition of reform groups that led a revolutionary movement against the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. He was forced to flee the country, arriving in America in 1895. After studying medicine in Maryland, Dr. Sallume registered as a physician and surgeon in Toledo in January, 1897.

Dr. Sallume married an American woman, and they took up residence in Birckhead Place off Cherry Street, then an affluent gated community.

He was a believer in the medicinal powers of leban (Arabic for yogurt) and prescribed it internally and externally as a poultice to combat the effects of influenza.

He joined the Sanford L. Collins Masonic lodge in 1900, now located in Sylvania. He was active in Masonic circles, reaching the highest rank of a 32nd degree Mason. The downtown lodge he attended on Adams and Michigan streets was very formal. It was called the silk stocking lodge - requiring formal attire of tail coat, tie, and top hat - and other members included the elite businessmen in the area, says Byron Stickles the local Mason historian.

A glowing account of Dr. Sallume appeared in A History of Northwest Ohio in 1917. "The people of Toledo have come to know Doctor Sallume not only as one of the most able members of his profession but as one of the most gifted personalities and most brilliant intellects that the old world of the East has given to New America."

When Dr. Sallume died in 1938, his obituary appeared in the New York Times.

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