In the spirit of the holidays, we would like to share a heart warming story that attests to the power of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. Please support our work and remember the Lois Roth Foundation in your end-of-year giving!
In January 2021, we received a generous online donation from a person we had never heard of: Iraj Rastegar. We were intrigued. Following up, we discovered that Iraj had been searching for Lois Roth online when he came across our website and learned that she had died. So, we put him in touch with Dick Arndt, Lois’s former colleague, widower and the founder of the Lois Roth Foundation. Their correspondence revealed a long and moving story.
In the late 1960s, Dick and Lois were both cultural diplomats with the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran—Dick as the Cultural Attaché and Lois as the Director of the Iran-America Society (IAS). IAS had a Student House, located across the street from Tehran University, which had organized a daily conversation hour where students could practice English and talk about current events with a native speaker from the Embassy or Peace Corps.
In spring 1968, two openings were announced for volunteers to go visit and work in different US school districts, promoting cultural exchange and teaching the history and geography of their native country and region. Iraj was an engineering student. One of hundreds to apply, he got an interview with the committee, led by Dr. Richard T. Arndt. At the Student House, he then met Lois Roth, who was the English-speaker on Mondays. In Iraj’s words: I continued to go every week. She talked about student unrest in France and at Columbia University, her alma mater. After 7 or 8 sessions, she told me I had been selected to go to the U.S.
Iraj’s plans were blocked, however, as an official told him that Iran needed engineers more than the U.S. did. Iraj turned to Lois, and told her what the official had said. She was very upset, explaining that it was important to send people who were qualified, rather than someone the government selected. She promised to see what could be done. Iraj wrote: About ten days later, I was informed that I was, in fact, one of the two selected. I don’t know what happened after I left Ms. Roth’s office, but she was truly my Guardian Angel. She changed my life, and I am indebted to her. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Ms. Roth after my arrival in the US. I am sure she would have been happy to hear from me.
In a few months Iraj was in the U.S., beginning his teaching duties at Talcott Mountain Science Center in Connecticut. It was here that he met and married Kathy, a teacher and artist.
Kathy and Iraj on their wedding day. Kathy had crocheted her wedding dress.
The two went on to live in many places in the U.S. and around the world during Iraj’s career in industry. They raised two beautiful children, who now live near Iraj in Texas. Sadly, after 48 years of marriage, Kathy passed away in 2017. The emptiness left by her absence and his retirement gave Iraj time to think and write about Kathy, his life and gratitude. This is what led him to seek out Lois Roth. When he instead found the Lois Roth Foundation, he could not have known that he had come across a memorial to another much loved and admired woman.
Dick Arndt and Lois Roth had changed my life, and I was grateful for that.
Thanks to Board member Anne Barbaro, Iraj and Dick Arndt were able to reunite, 50 years after their first encounter. Over dinner with Board Chair Skyler Arndt-Briggs, it was an evening of remembrances—of Iraj’s trajectory and of Lois and Dick’s efforts to establish and deepen cross-cultural dialogue. It was a miraculous example of the enormous impact that can result from personal attention to individuals, their potential and their needs. We thank Iraj for his friendship, his loyalty to Dick and Lois and his faithful support of our work. Please join him in supporting the Lois Roth Foundation.
Iraj (left), Sky and Dick at Anne’s house