Josh Nichols: Loving freedom for all it's worth

He cornered me many times.

When Saed Tayyara got your ear, he didn't want to let it go.

Anyone involved in politics, government or journalism in Northwest Colorado knows what that was like.

Saed could be a pain in the neck, but I always respected the guy for how well-informed he was - and how he was able to back up his opinions with documented facts.

If this newspaper reporter needed insight into an issue, the former business owner and Craig mayor always was a good place start.

Every community has a few Saeds - thank goodness.

I'd been dealing with Saed for about a year in Craig as a reporter for the Craig Daily Press, when I had an opportunity to attend a public talk he gave at a local community center.

That's when, for the first time, I got some insight into why Saed kept himself so well-informed, why he always spouted his opinions and why he not only participated in the governmental process, but reveled in it.

Saed loved freedom because he didn't always have it.

To understand Saed, begin by considering a question posed years ago by my college professor in an African-American history class. The discussion was about rebel slaves, who risked their lives for the freedom they desired. The professor posed this question to the class:

"All of you out there who think you're rebels: Would you stand up for a cause or something you believed in, if you were risking your life by doing so?"

I couldn't answer that question. I still can't. Idealistically, I'd like to say I would. But would I? Would you?

Saed Tayyara could answer that question, "yes," because he did.

Saed was raised in Syria, and as a youth, he did some reading about the concept of democracy.

The beliefs he took from that reading didn't mesh well with the Syrian government's rules.

That didn't stop him from speaking up, but it got him in trouble - a lot.

As a teenager, he was awoken one night in his parents' home with a hand over his mouth and a gun to his head.

Authorities believed the outspoken young man played a role in anti-government pamphlets distributed at a soccer match. Saed insisted that he wasn't involved, and despite intense pressure by authorities to admit to his suspected involvement, he never did. He eventually was released.

On another occasion, Saed criticized the ruling regime in one of his high school classes.

His teachers turned him in.

He was thrown into a 4-by-4 foot cell with water in the bottom, and an electric current was run through it.

The fact that his son was being harassed and tortured concerned Saed's father.

"If I'm going to see you alive, I need to send you abroad to live," his father told him.

So, Saed fled to the United States.

In his new country, founded on the ideas of freedom and citizen participation in government, Saed thrived.

He became a citizen, opened a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Craig and became community leader. I don't have space to list everything in which he was involved.

He was a leader not only in his own community, but also in western Colorado and the region.

Anyone who's been involved with Club 20 knows Saed. I ran into him on occasion at Club 20 meetings in Grand Junction. Like the good-ole-days in Craig, he cornered me outside of the convention center and gave me an earful about the issue of the day. I loved it.

Club 20 meetings and public hearings weren't boring for Saed. They were an opportunity to get involved in the process and have an impact on decisions.

He'd been in a place that wasn't free - a place that persecuted, tortured and punished you for desiring to be free. As a result, he spent every waking moment sucking up every ounce of freedom available to him in the United States. He was addicted to it.

"If I were to speak as freely then as I am now, I would be dead," Saed said in that public talk I sat in on six years ago.

"It's our obligation to teach our children not to take freedom for granted," he said. "You live one time, and you die one time. I decided I don't want to live as a slave."

Saed didn't live as a slave, and he didn't take freedom for granted.

He jumped headfirst into freedom, splashed around in it and soaked up everything it had to offer.

Saed died Saturday after a long battle with lung cancer.

He died a public servant.

He died free.

Josh Nichols is managing editor of the Grand Junction Free Press. Reach him at editor@gjfreepress.com.

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