Leila Doss was born in Egypt in 1921. Until her death in July 2016, she was a passionate champion of the United Nations and a fierce advocate of the principles of peace, equal rights and international cooperation on which it was founded.
One of six siblings in a lively, culture-loving family, Leila won a place at Oxford University in her teens, but war made travel to England impossible. Instead Leila joined Egyptian State Broadcasting, making history in 1944 with her first live broadcast announcing the Normandy Landings. Three years later, finding her career stymied by the unwillingness of her (British) managers to promote an Egyptian woman, Leila resigned her post and embarked on a trip to discover America with a $99 ‘Greyhound ticket’. It was a tourist visit to the newly-established United Nations that ignited the passion that subsequently defined her career and her life.
In characteristically determined fashion, Leila installed herself in New York and persuaded the Personnel Department to give her a role. This was the start of a 37-year career with the UN, which took her to Geneva, Cairo, Vienna, Bangkok and Rangoon, leading global information campaigns on a wide range of issues.
In 1978, Leila returned to New York, the city that was to be her adopted home for the next 38 years. She had taken on positions of increasing responsibility at the UN and earned a reputation for fairness, integrity and commitment. After Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar took office he appointed Leila in 1982 to the post of Assistant Secretary-General for Personnel Services, overseeing a staff of 18,000 people drawn from every country in the world. This role was to be Leila’s last at the UN. While her love for the organisation and its principles never dimmed, she was sometimes frustrated by its bureaucracy and cronyism. She had navigated these choppy waters successfully until now, but this role brought things to a head. After 18 months she retired, explaining to friends that she could no longer do an ‘honest job’.
Leila remained active in the United Nations Association, The Society for International Development and the Academic Council on the UN System. She taught courses on multilateralism and international communications at Long Island University and was Assistant Professor at Fordham University. She also continued to play a vital role in the International Association for Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) and is fondly remembered by its members for her courage and compassion.
A gift for storytelling, her knowledge of history and politics, her sense of fairness, her wonderful cooking, her (sometimes wicked) sense of humor and her compassion earned Leila many loyal friends of all nationalities and religions. She loved poetry, music, theatre, good food, good company and above all, she loved life itself.
A celebration of Leila’s life will take place on Sunday, November 13th, 2016, 11am – 1pm at the Church Center for the UN (CCUN), 777 UN Plaza, New York. RSVP email@example.com. Donations to a charity of your choice in Leila’s name.
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