Posted by Guest on March 24, 2017 in Blog

By Samantha Leathley

IMG_3156.JPGAhead of the 2017 Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards, we sat down with Greg Simon, who will receive the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service on April 27, to discuss his career and family history. Simon, who worked at the forefront of developing some of our country’s most groundbreaking health and science policies, spent time early in his career as the General Counsel and Staff Director of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and he served as the Legislative Director for then Senator Al Gore. He joined Vice President Gore at the White House as his Chief Domestic Policy Advisor where he oversaw the passage of several landmark biotechnology initiatives at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, while also working on the U.S.-Russia International Space Station Agreement.


Clearly, Simon’s professional trajectory is impressive. However, through our Facebook Live interview with him, it became clear that he places great importance on understanding history as well. Mr. Simon’s fascinating family story, which he shared, was an inspiring and moving tale of immigration, public service, and family. He detailed the journey his ancestors took in coming from Lebanon (which was then Syria) to the United States. Through this narrative, we gained insight into Simon’s passion for politics and public service much of which came from his grandfather who was a diligent and dedicated advocate. Simon noted that his father was a quiet and thoughtful man but it seemed that the drive to engage in politics and public service “skipped a generation,” to land squarely on him. And we are fortunate that it did. More recently, in 2003, Simon was selected to serve as the founding president of FasterCures, and led key programs that pushed for increased data sharing in the field of biomedicine and the quicker dissemination of life-saving medicines for deadly and debilitating diseases—efforts that benefit thousands of Americans. He went on to serve as a Senior Vice President at Pfizer, developing crucial programs that increased collaboration with nonprofit research organizations; spent time as CEO at Poliwogg, a crowdfunding firm for healthcare and science-focused startups. In 2016, Simon was appointed by Vice President Biden to lead the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. Today, he continues the efforts of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force in his capacity as President of the Biden Cancer Initiative.

Through all these professional accomplishments, one of the hallmarks of Simon’s work has been bipartisan cooperation. As he affirmed in our interview, “success is not possible without collaboration.” Simon spoke to the broader value of cohesion and acceptance in society pointing out that his family members were, a long time ago, Syrian refugees. He also spoke of the tragic murder of his great uncle and aunt at the hands of local vigilantes lending historical context to the xenophobia against Syrian refugees we see today. Referring to a century-old letter written by his grandfather, Simon noted in a powerful comment that his grandfather vowed to “never rest until he avenged the death of his brother” something his grandfather was only able to do “by succeeding in America (which in a way is a kind of revenge) …Because they were Syrian refugees a century ago.” This quote is a striking reminder that anti-immigrant sentiments are not new, and that immigrants, and their remarkable descendants have been instrumental in crafting modern American success stories. With this appreciation of time, history, and his family legacy of dedication and public service, we are excited to honor Greg Simon on April 27th.

All photos courtesy of Greg Simon

Samantha Leathley is a Spring 2017 Intern at the Arab American Institute.