Samir Boulos Salem

Samir Boulos Salem
Samir Boulos Salem | February 7, 1951 – March 9, 2023

February 7, 1951 – March 9, 2023

COMMUNITY! The dictionary has a lengthy definition of community which includes fellowship and commonality, but the best definition is summed up as:  SAM SALEM and WHITEWAY DELI.  Since 1975 after taking over his dad’s business in Riverside, Sam and Hanan Salem with his sister Anne and his mother, have welcomed generations of people from all over Jacksonville to enjoy the sandwiches and camaraderie of the family-owned gathering place. Known far and wide for the “best tabouli on earth,” and the friendliest faces, Whiteway was a home away from home for several generations. On his retirement in 2016 Sam stated in his Letter to Whiteway friends: “Three things make Whiteway special: the familiarity, the comradery and the food. People call Whiteway an institution. I don’t see it that way. Our customers are the real institution.” 

PHOTOGRAPHS! Over 70,000 photos of customers and family were displayed on the walls, posters and in albums.  Stuart Boline said, “These photos reflect Sam’s love of people and his great spirit. Sam touched so many lives and always beamed a smile to all he knew and those he just met.”   Dr. George Trotter remarked, “Sam was so dapper and pleasant. He and his family are wonderful people. We joked about the photos. I always said, “NO. I’m on the witness protection program.”

Sam Salem was born in Ramallah, Palestine and immigrated to the U.S. in 1957, grew up in Riverside and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1969. Besides helping his father after school at the deli, he played basketball and baseball at Willowbranch Park with his brother Charles and friend Billy Finch. Billy recalls going into the Salem’s store 60 years ago to buy comic books and an RC Cola. He said, “I walked from our house on Forbes Street to their house on Green Street and Mr. Salem would drive Charlie, Sammy and me to John Gorrie and then take Anne to Lee. Sammy was always ‘the little brother.’ We played ball all over the neighborhood. My dad would stand at the deli counter and talk to Mr. Salem for hours.” Cousin Louis Ballantyne wrote in a remembrance that he enjoyed courtside chats at Boone Park while watching Ryan, Paul or Hanan play tennis. “Sam’s favorite topics were The BOSS, Daytona 500, cycling and of course, family.”  Pat Hazouri, a high school friend, remembers that Sam loved fast cars and scooted around in his Rambler. (Later on, he advanced to a Porsche.)

On a trip to Buffalo, New York to visit relatives Sam met his beautiful bride-to-be Hanan. She told of how they dated long-distance for about a year. “I graduated from high school in June and got married July 26, 1975, then moved to Jacksonville. Eventually my parents followed me here. We have an extended family, and our customers were our family.”

MEMORIES: There is an outpouring of stories and love for Sam and his family on social media and the Legacy website all noting his generosity and kindness. The Salems have three children — Amanda Salem Mackoul, Ryan, and Paul (Jamie.) True to form Sammy and Hanan (called Cedo and Tata — Arabic for grandfather and grandmother)  posted photos of their grandchildren — Jackson and Alden Salem and Olivia and Frank Mackoul on social media at every opportunity — jumping on trampolines, getting awards, acting and singing in productions, swimming, playing basketball, at the beach, the zoo, pretend sword fighting at Riverside Park and Sam riding bicycles with the kids. Each photo is a testimony to love and family devotion. When Frank was born Sam remarked in a post “another joy in my life.”

Bicycling as well as tennis was a lifelong passion for this exuberant man. Riding buddy and friend Tony Nasrallah explained that they started out at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 6:30 am twice a week and traveled 10 or 12 miles through  Ortega Forest and back. The men have a long history as Nasrallah’s grandfather and uncles developed the Nasrallah building which is Whiteway Corner. Tony reminisced about skipping school at lunch time and hiding out in the back room at Whiteway to eat.

THE BACK ROOM: The gathering place for reunions, planning sessions, including meetings for the Jacksonville Artists Guild, board meetings (as well as a hideout for errant schoolboys.) Jim Love held his monthly business sessions at Whiteway.  Daisy Miller Davidson recalls family meetings in the back room. Called River Club West, Whiteway was the gathering place for the “high rollers, the Big Shots and the everyday Joes.”  Davidson said, “The regulars — prominent men in the community — sat at the center table and talked. You could get all the local news just by listening. All the critical moments of my life have been accompanied by a sandwich from Whiteway. Every day while a student at Riverside Baptist Day School I ate a sandwich from Whiteway (Sam was so handsome — all of the girls had a crush on him); we got food for picnics, for football games, every occasion. Sam always knew what you wanted, remembered everything. The first place I went after my engagement was to Whiteway. Of course, Sammy took a photo. While recovering from a car wreck and hobbling around on crutches I’d go in the back door and eat in the kitchen to avoid the crowd. His mother would be in the back chopping parsley for the tabouli. I’ve walked in, no wallet, he’d say pay me later. You were fed in so many ways. Not just physically but spiritually. Sam and Hanan and Sam’s sister Anne were the heart of everything.”

THE SANDWICHES: Hanan said the first named sandwich was  “The Amanda Special” named after their daughter. Then there was “The Anne Beard Special.”  Shaara Swallow said she would drive all the way from the beach to get the “Dr. Long.” The Drs. McClow, Clark and Berk ordered 20 sandwiches a week for their meetings according to Becky Rood who worked for the group at St. Vincent’s. She said, “I always got the same thing Turkey, tabouli, and slaw on pita bread with the famous potato salad. The “Dr. Berk” sandwich. After Saturday rehearsals, dancers from Baggs Studio of Ballet chasséd down King Street to Whiteway for lunch. But it wasn’t just a sandwich. Sam’s compassion and kindness provided nourishment for the bodies and spirits of his Whiteway friends.

THE LEGACY: Besides his personal contribution to people’s lives, Sam was a trustee for MOSH, active in St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Riverside Avondale Preservation Society, the Park and King Merchants Association, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the Ramallah American Club and was supportive of the former Riverside Arts Festival. Cookie Davis remarked, “He believed in his community and supported it .”

Sam’s service, with several hundred attendees, was held at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church with the Very Reverend Father Kamil Al — Rahil officiating and daughter Amanda delivering the moving eulogy. He is survived by his siblings Lily, Anne, Charles (Sharon) and his wife, children and grandchildren.

Sam fed Jacksonville with wonderful food, his smiling face, his humor and stories that made you smile. A friend commented that he hoped to touch as many people’s lives in a positive way as Sam did.” Gordon Terry stated, “He left this world a little better with a life well lived.”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

Brought to you by Hardage-Giddens Funeral Homes

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