Sami Kalifa was quite possibly the most joyous man I ever met. His outlook on life was never saccharine or forced, but was a robust love of life and all the people in it.
Many in Annandale mourned last week when Sami died after a hard-fought battle against cancer. Everybody loved Sami and Sami loved everybody, regardless of race, creed, gender, or age. His memorial service on Sunday was packed with a diverse set of friends and relatives, which spoke volumes about his ability in the community to reach across differences to find similarities. Sami never met a stranger; everyone was a friend.
Sami Kalifa was born in Palestine, after World War II but before the British partition created the state of Israel. He was the youngest of ten children, raised in very meager circumstances. His family could not afford a soccer ball, so Sami would take socks and roll them into a ball, adding more socks until the ball was big enough to kick around the dirt yard. Sami was raised in Jordan, educated in Egypt, and emigrated to America in 1969 with barely $100 in his pocket. He once told me a story, which may be apocryphal, that his airline ticket was supposed to be for Dallas, but there was some mix-up and he landed at Dulles! Sami slept on park benches for a time, but Dallas’ loss was our gain. He worked during the day, went to school at night, and became a proud American citizen in 1975. After working in the electronics field for many years, he established The Flower Den at the Bradlick Shopping Center in Annandale in 1990, which quickly became the fastest growing flower shop in the area.
Sami’s generosity and volunteer spirit was well-known. He had a standing order in the shop that any lady customer, regardless of what she ordered, would leave with a long-stemmed rose, often proffered by Sami himself. There were buckets of roses at his memorial service, and his son, Nader, told the assembled friends that it was Sami’s wish that every lady leave the funeral home with a rose. Nader also told the story of a time when a customer called Sami, furious about the condition of a floral arrangement that had been delivered. Sami told the caller he would make it good, and sent a new arrangement. Only after the second flowers came did the caller realize that the original delivery had not come from the Flower Den. She had called the wrong shop to complain. Sami later admitted that he knew that the customer was not his, but she was so upset he just wanted to make her happy. That was typical Sami. By the way, the lady is now a Flower Den customer for life!
Sami served as the president of the Annandale Chamber of Commerce, and volunteered for numerous Annandale activities, including Rotary, revitalization, the Language Access Roundtable, and voter registration. In 2003, I was pleased to name Sami as Mason District’s Lord Fairfax honoree to recognize the indelible mark he put on serving Annandale residents and businesses. He truly was an example of achieving the American dream.
Sami Kalifa is survived by his beautiful wife, Jenny; sons Nader, Omar, and Kamal, daughter Muna, and several small grandchildren. Sadly, they will be too young to remember their grandfather’s joyous approach to life and his absolute love for his family and friends. But hundreds of Sami’s friends will be around to remind them