About JEAN SASSON
My life has been mainly defined by four things: a love of people, a love of animals, a love of books, and a great curiosity for foreign countries and cultures.
As a child I filled the family home with many pets, including dogs, cats, birds, and even chickens. There was a very interesting and an elegant white chicken name Prissy who loved to perch on the swing on the front porch. Regardless of how fast I would swing, Prissy remained unperturbed and appeared to enjoy the ride. Prissy was as smart as she was beautiful, even learning to walk on a lead. I was quite proud of her feat as I walked Prissy around the neighborhood. A second chick hatched in my mother's warm oven was named "Ducky," because of her short legs. My face was the first seen by Ducky, so she thought I was her mother and became my little shadow. Once day when playing in the back yard, Ducky was kidnapped by a chicken hawk. My last view of Ducky was those short legs frantically moving. It took me a long time to recover from the shock of Ducky's horrific end. Later there was a black Cocker Spaniel named Blacky, a white mutt named Frisky who had a sweet pup named Dobie, who was followed by a Pekingese named Goo Boo. At last count, I have been the proud companion of 33 pets.
I was the "baby" of the family and as such, developed into a bit of a mama's baby. I was so close to my parents that I called them every day that I lived abroad. My dependence on my Mom was a bit of a joke, in fact. I remember once when calling her from Riyadh to discuss something important at the time. After calling her two or three times, thee was no answer. So I called the police in our little town and asked the Police Chief Jack Frost to drive to my parent's home and tell my mother that her daughter needed to talk to her. Jack Frost had a good laugh, telling Mom to please answer the phone so he didn't have to make a house call. (I don't think he minded though because Mom always had cake and coffee ready for him.)
Even though Mom has now been dead for seven years, nearly every day I find myself on automatic, walking to the phone to give her a ring to tell her about this or that. I wish it was that easy to talk to her!
Born into a small southern town where there was little entertainment for kids, nothing quite opened my world as my love of books, which I inherited from my father's side of the family. Books swept me away to exotic worlds that I could only imagine. I was taken on a thrilling journey to Laos where I shared a lot of adventures with Dr. Thomas Dooley, a physician from St. Louis who devoted his life to the "doctor less" poor living in villages in Laos. I really believed that I would one day join Dr. Dooley in his jungle medical hut and that I would do a lot of good things for humanity. One of the saddest moments of my young life was when Tom Dooley died of cancer when I was about 14 years old. Later I discovered Raoul Wallenberg, and Sir Winston Churchill and Freya Stark and Sir Richard Burton and many other adventurers and travelers who altered my life in a most wonderful way.
Those books made me so aware of the world outside my little village, that later in life when I had a chance to travel to Saudi Arabia to work in a royal hospital, I leapt at the opportunity. I'm so glad I did, for since that time I've traveled around the world visiting 66 countries, came to know so many lovely people, and now have friends all over the world. Lucky me!
I worked for Dr. Nizar Feteih, the head of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. For the first two years I was in charge of doctor's meetings, but later was promoted to the high-ranking position of Medical Affairs Coordinator, which basically meant I was Dr. Feteih's right hand. I never knew a dull moment because the job responsibilities drew me into much of the business of the Medical Affairs office.
I met Peter Sasson soon after arriving in the Kingdom and Peter and I dated exclusively until we married in 1982. Soon after we married, I resigned from the hospital and lived in a Saudi neighborhood with Peter, where I was fortunate to have so many friends from all over the Arab world.
Although I knew a lot of the royals due to the fact various members of the Al-Saud family visited Dr. Feteih at the hospital, I never became really close to any one person, although King Khalid and later King Fahd were both kindly to me and never failed to ask if I needed or wanted anything.
But a year after leaving the hospital, I met a Saudi princess who would change my life in a most profound manner. Princess Sultana was one of the young female royals pushing against the age-old restrictions against women. Although she did not come out in a public way, she led her life in a manner that was unusual for the times. She was one of only four or five royal princesses who accompanied their husbands to some social functions held at the various foreign Embassies in Jeddah, and later in Riyadh.
In those days, I found that most Saudis were friendly and welcoming. Friendships with westerners were not taboo, as they have since become. I knew others at the hospital who were invited to various Saudi parties and weddings, so my experience was not unusual. Unfortunately, as the years passed, the welcome doors slowly closed. For that reason I am happy that I went to Saudi Arabia during the early years.
My friendship with the princess led to the telling of her personal story, which became the international best-selling book, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. And, my friends, the rest is history.