On his 56th
birthday, Premier Amir Abbas Hoveyda
talks to reporter Jane Crane
Tehran Journal, February 18,1975
Hoveyda receives a birthday kiss from his mother
In Pursuit of a Common Goal
"IF you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue, and talk with kings nor lose the
Those two lines from Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, "If" might have been written about Amir Abbas Hoveyda, Prime Minister of Iran, who celebrates his 56th birthday.
A very sincere and faithful premier in the service of the Shah and his country, whose unprecedented progress in the last decade has made it a major power in the world, his favor is courted by the leaders of other nations.
But he has never lost touch with the common people, frequently finding time in his crowded schedule to travel around Iran and talk to them. He has remained accessible, and they love him for it, flocking around him whenever he appears in desert villages or provincial towns, to cheer and clap, or just to stare in silent shyness.
I went with the Prime Minister to Shiraz and the South earlier this month and saw this amazing man in action. At ease in any situation, he fielded questions from faculty members at Pahlavi University, addressed the young people of his party, talk to transport workers, was a charming host to visiting foreign dignitaries, spoke to a rally of supporters, and toured the flood stricken area of Jask. Everywhere, people warmed to him as he spoke, for to each particular group, be talked of the things that concern them. He knew their problems, their hopes and their fears.
But it was in the villages that Hoveyda was at his best for he is a man of the people. As the villagers thronged around him, be talked to a great many individually, asking about their jobs, their housing, their families, talking of things they understand.
And many of them asked him to do something for them, to help in some way. The Prime Minister listened, and where complaints were justified, he told the authorities, the representatives of various government agendas with him, to rectify the situation. Two young teachers in Jask told him there was nothing for the children and young people to do in the evenings. "Allocate 10,000 tomans for a project for them, and supply regular films to be shown in the schoolhouse," he said.
An old, bent man was led before him, "I am blind and cannot work, and my house fell down around me because I had no money to repair it, so I have no home and have to sleep in the mosque," he said. The Prime Minister ordered a house to be built for him and the Red Lion and Sun Society to care for him. Some children whose parent 'had died were told that the Red Lion and Sun would look after them too, jobs were given to men who had no work. For the villagers of Jask, it was like a visit from Father Christmas.
I asked the Prime Minister if he ever became impatient with having to listen to other people's problems.He smiled "No, I don't. Patience is one of the pillars of wisdom for a Prime Minister. Without patience, I would be a bad prime minister. And if people bring their problems to me do what I can for them. It do esn't matter that I rarely hear good news - I am an optimism by nature." "But giving a house here and a job there is not enough. These things should be done collectively, not individually. We are trying to set up some kind of machinery to deal with these problems, but that takes time and some of these situation cannot wait, because for the people who are in them, they are desperate situations."
In the two days in the south Mr. Hoveyda was given over 700 letters and petitions from the people he met. Two members of his staff stayed behind in Bandar Abbas to sift through them and Implement his instructions. But perhaps helping the underprivileged goes deeper than mere patience. Amir Abba Hoveyda was not always a prime minister, he knows that the world can be cruel and callous.
"My father was diplomat and he died when we were in Beirut. I was 14, my brother was 9, and my mother had to bring us up without any help from anyone," he told me. "She was wonderful. She turned our home into a kind of boarding house and took in paying guests to support us. In those days there were no laws to help families suddenly left without a provider; we were on our own. Strangely, when I became Prime Minister I suddenly found I had lots of relatives and friends who wanted to know me. But I am not bitter or soured."
The son is still very close to the mother who worked so hard all those years ago. Now 74, Mrs. Hoveyda lives in Tehran and is visited by her eldest son twice a week, and telephoned every day. "For mothers sons never grow up." says Mr. Hoveyda with a gentle smile. "I may be Prime Minister to everyone else, but to her I am still a little boy. When I go away on trips, I have to call her and tell her that I have arrived safely, otherwise she worries. "My mother is a very determined woman with a lot of personality and strong persona judgement. She is the hardest critic of government action and still lives a very Spartan life."
Mr. Hoveyda, who speaks five languages, started his education at the French School in Beirut and continued it in England and Belgium, and finally in France where he studied Law and Political Science, and took his Ph D in History. In some ways he is still a student at heart. "I love to have all my books around me with not much order in them" he says. "And I still see my friends from those days." How does he relax? "I like to read. I'll read almost anything, and I like listening to music, classical music and especially Bach."
He sleeps only five hours at night, getting up at
5:30 to breakfast, read the papers and does some exercises before sitting down at his desk
at home and reading the mail and various reports. By 8:30 am he is in his office down town
and another busy day has begun. Because anyone with a problem wants to get to the Prime
minister, Mr. Hoveyda has a special telephone system which goes into operation at night to
protect his sleep. Anyone calling him at night first talks to the duty officer at his
office, and if they get past him there are two more people who will decide if the matter
is urgent enough to wake the Prime Minister. Even despite such precautions, his sleep is
sometimes disturbed without reason - like on the occasion a governor called him at
3 a.m. to demand him a helicopter to a flooded area, and someone else who telephoned in
the wee small hours to say the Karaj Road was closed.
Last year Mr Hoveyda went on a diet and slimmed down 17 kilos in three months. He is still careful about what he eats. "I like rice but I can't eat it," he says ruefully, "and "I love chocolate, but it doesn't love me."
The Prime Minister has the reputation of being a smart dresser, so I asked him where he bought his dotheg. "They are made for me by a little old tailor here in Tehran. I have been going to him for 25 years, and I still go to the same barber too."
In Tehran, Mr. Hoveyda cannot walk about the streets without being mobbed. "I'd like sometimes to be able to go out and browse through the bookshops, but everyone knows me and whenever I've tried to go out, I've stopped the traffic, so I don't do it anymore." We have a lot of traffic jams n Tehran anyway. One more now and again would not be too big a price to pay for the pleasure of seeing you a bit more often. Happy Birthday. Mr. Prime Minister.
Hoveyda, an optimist by nature
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