Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt

Posted by on June 20, 2014 in Blog

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants Salim and Najla Shqer, was born in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1929. Her father started out as a peddler and worked tirelessly to open a department store, and then went on to  run his own dry cleaning business. Her mother,  who is credited as Selwa’s inspiration, was a 40-year-old widow when she first began her education. She graduated at the top of her class, receiving a M.A. in linguistics from Georgetown University, and then went on to teach French at East Tennessee State University. Reflecting on her upbringing, Roosevelt notes, “I was brought up with traditional values and with… nicely conservative parents who gave me a lot of love and a wonderful home with very few material things.”

Lucky, a name she received in college due to her skills at card games, spent most of her childhood in rural Tennessee, but lived in Lebanon for two years where she was immersed in her family’s rich Arab culture. Although proud to be raised in America, Roosevelt insists that the strong values of her Arab heritage are what helped her ultimately achieve success.

Roosevelt’s intellectual and political interests were fostered by her mother who was heavily involved in the local community and was president of the Tennessee League of Women Voters. Her mother’s example, along with an insatiable appetite for books, led Selwa to excel in school and graduate with honors from Vassar, one of the finest women’s colleges in the nation.

Roosevelt’s passion has always been for journalism. Her parent’s relatively humble financial standings instilled the value of hard work in Roosevelt, who worked for a local newspaper starting at the age of 16, writing mostly obituaries to pay for her schooling. After Graduating with three B.A.s in Economics, History, and Political Science, Lucky began looking for jobs in Washington, D.C..  She was interviewed by Archie Roosevelt, Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, for a position in the Middle East division of Voice of America, a U.S. federal government broadcasting institution. Although she did not qualify for the job due to language deficiencies, as she had not spoken Arabic since her time in Lebanon, she married Archie Roosevelt three months after the interview, becoming part of one of the most distinguished political families in American history.

Archie, a Middle East expert who spoke more than 20 languages, took Selwa all around the world, serving as CIA Station Chief in England, Turkey, and Spain.  After travelling the globe, Lucky and Archie finally settled down in Washington, D.C., where Lucky was able to follow her calling.

At the heart of the nation’s capital, Lucky’s career really took off. She continued in journalism, previously having covered the White House for The Washington Star. It was her job to attend and report on the various state functions, inaugurations, and diplomatic events  held by the White House. She then landed a job with The Washington Post and also regularly contributed to magazines including Town and Country, McCalls and Family Circle.

Roosevelt was assigned to interview Former First Lady Nancy Reagan while she was covering the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami. This was the beginning of her relationship with the Reagan family that eventually led to Roosevelt’s appointment as Chief of Protocol for the White House in 1982. Roosevelt found that her years of covering government events and ceremonies, as well as her life abroad, prepared her well for this distinguished position. She represented the United States, alongside the President, on all official international visits and welcomed and arranged the itineraries for all foreign dignitaries. She held the position for seven years, the longest tenure of any Chief of Protocol.

In 2012, Roosevelt received a commendation from President Barack Obama for her service to her community, country, and government.

An exceptional journalist and civil servant, Selwa Roosevelt is the sort of confident self-made person that is an inspiration for all. From humble immigrant beginnings, the motivational guidance of her mother, the curiosity and brilliance of her mind, and the resolve in which she pursued her goals allowed her to achieve the highest of distinctions, and the Arab American community couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments.


Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.