In Memoriam

Barbara Shaheen remembered for leadership, lively spirit

Barbara Shaheen holds her Community Service Award in December 2014. Shaheen received the award from Georgia Military College, her alma mater.
Barbara Shaheen holds her Community Service Award in December 2014. Shaheen received the award from Georgia Military College, her alma mater.

WARNER ROBINS — Barbara Shaheen, a retired businesswoman, public servant and mother of former Mayor Chuck Shaheen, is being remembered for her tenacity, leadership and lively spirit.

Shaheen, 84, died Sunday from complications after a recent shoulder surgery. Shaheen is a past chairwoman of the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce and was involved with the Middle Georgia Cedars Club, Warner Robins Little Theatre and Centerville Downtown Development Authority among other volunteer and civic organizations, according to her obituary.

The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Shaheen met her husband, Charles "Chuck" Shaheen Jr., a sergeant in the Air Force, on a blind date in Orlando, Florida. The couple had two children and moved to Warner Robins in 1964 with the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command.

The family opened its first business, Shaheen Office Supply, in 1972 and operated it about three decades before selling it.

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said he remembers meeting the Shaheens not long after they opened the business.

"She was the person who would actually come around and take orders," Stalnaker said. "If (Barbara) or her husband were in the store, they'd meet you at the door and try to help you and accommodate your needs."

Shaheen was a community-minded woman who "did an awful lot for the Warner Robins area," Stalnaker said. "If she was one of your friends, now, she was a friend for life. She was a very loyal person."

Shaheen's daughter, 56-year-old Donna Kiefer, said her mother was a problem-solver who wasn't afraid to use technology if it made work more efficient.

"She was one of the first in town to have the infrared scanning system," Kiefer recalled.

Even in recent weeks, Shaheen was equipped with a newer iPhone, which Kiefer said she used to text and send emojis to family and friends. She also posted on Facebook.

Kopie O'Neal, of Perry, was Shaheen's bridge partner.

"Everybody liked her. She was so much fun," O'Neal said. "Everybody had fun when they were around Barbara. ... I think about her dancing. She loved to dance. You almost had to hold her down so she wouldn't dance. ... Not very many people danced like Barbara did."

Shaheen enjoyed sharing her culture and often performed and taught a Middle Eastern dance commonly called belly dancing.

"I don't know why they call it belly dancing. It's your arms, your legs, your hips, not your belly," she told The Telegraph in 2005.

City Councilman Chuck Shaheen, 55, said it wasn't until he was a teenager at Warner Robins High School that he realized his mother's ability to bring life to a party was far from embarrassing.

The Shaheens were hosting a pool party at their home, "and my mother puts on her music and starts dancing," he recalled. "Being minority and Middle Eastern, sometimes we didn't want people to know. ... People went crazy. All our friends start dancing with our mom."

While some have bucket lists of activities or accomplishments they'd like to complete before they die, Chuck Shaheen said, "My mom exceeded a bucket list."

Despite having several decades of success as a businesswoman, Barbara Shaheen did not have a business degree and decided to enroll at Georgia Military College in 2007. She is the former owner of the Shaheen Plaza shopping center and Legacy Fine China on South Houston Lake Road.

"She could have been anything in life ... but she chose to be a mother and a businesswoman," Chuck Shaheen said. "She was the ultimate consummate civic leader."

A rosary is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday with a visitation to follow until 8 p.m. at McCullough Funeral Home, according to her obituary. A funeral Mass will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins. A committal service will follow at Magnolia Park Mausoleum.

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.