Obituary: Asma Matar of Milford

Asma Matar, who started her life as an orphan and refugee, ended it as the beloved, elegant matriarch of a large family and a cherished pillar of her Christian congregation. She died Thursday, July 5, at her home in Milford, Conn.

She was the wife of the late Said Matar. Over the course of their 52-year-marriage, they survived the tumult of World War II, the upheaval of immigration to an unfamiliar land — and raising six children. They made their home in a pale yellow bungalow near Walnut Beach, where they warmly and frequently opened their doors (front, back and refrigerator) to their sprawling extended family from around the globe, and their many friends from around the corner.

Asma was a passionate teacher of the Bible, world traveler and a local style icon — unexpected outcomes for a girl born in Havana, Cuba, who grew up in a Church of England orphanage in Nazareth, Palestine after losing her mother. One of hundreds of girls in the orphanage, she modified her drab uniform to make it fit better, and challenged the orphanage sisters on their theology and skimpy dinner menus. A rebel was born.

She worked for the British Navy in Haifa as a teenager, where she was known as a great beauty with hazel green eyes and a sweet tooth. She left her home in Palestine, and then her second home in Lebanon for the U.S. — but they never left her. She often returned to the Middle East for visits, and most of the state of Connecticut became familiar with the wonders of Lebanon through Asma’s descriptions, videos and her superior skills as a cook of Middle Eastern food.

She was a devoted member of the Milford/Devon Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and her faith compelled her to share her beliefs with strangers and new friends made on her many travels. She shared with them her fervent hope of the resurrection to a paradise earth, and looked forward to the time she would once again see her parents, siblings and husband. She loved Jehovah God, and she loved people.

She also loved shopping. She had a natural eye for color, and could wear turquoise and lime and look fantastic. As with much of her life, she rewrote the rules by ignoring them.

She was happiest when she was exploring the world, touring Italy’s Amalfi Coast, surveying the jewelry shops of Rome, wandering the Champs-Élysées in Paris and the bustling streets of London and Windsor. She was most content when she was in Middle East, where she traveled extensively with her husband, siblings, children and grandchildren. She loved visiting old friends in Beirut, eating fish and fresh salad at the Sea of Galilee, and walking Jerusalem’s colorful souk, and Nazareth’s spice markets. But her favorite place was a small stone apartment building in Haifa, which was her father’s home.

She also traveled across the U.S., often visiting her siblings in Florida, and taking trips to California, Las Vegas, Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina.

English was not her first language, but she studied and taught in it, made jokes in it, and made it her own. She developed her own catch-phrases. When pushed to get new furniture, she asked: “Why dress your house, when you can dress yourself?”

She was a master storyteller in two languages. She enthralled her grandchildren with stories of her life, and fables from her childhood. Bible stories were more exciting as she told them, with cliffhangers, and vivid descriptions of the action. With the same gusto, she would nearly re-enact favorite fictional movies.

She loved the music of Elvis, the Honeymooners, parties and late nights in big cities. Even in her later years, she put younger people to shame with her energy: she was the first one on the dance floor, the last one to go to bed and the first one up in the morning, lipstick perfect, ready to go out into the world. She took up piano later in life, and played and sang often.

She is survived by her children Hilda Matar Audeh and her husband, Fouad, of Danvers, MA; Assad Said Matar and his wife, Jane, of Deep Gap, NC; Vivian Matar Schultz and her husband Jim, and Anhila Matar, George Matar, Paul Matar and his wife Tamam, of Milford.

She is also survived by her 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, who knew her as Tayta (grandmother in Arabic.)

She was the last living member of her original family: her late parents Assad and Nahil Euaied, of Nazareth; and her late sisters Mary, Selma, Estrella and brothers Sam and Khalil.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 21, at 3 p.m. at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 494 Milford Point Rd., Milford, Conn., 06460.