Nabila Jabbour Fares (’56): A Name That Will Go Down in Our History

The mayor of Rabiyeh and social activist is presented with the LAU Alumni Recognition Award.

By Dana K. Haffar

Mrs. Fares with President Mawad and her family (from left), daughter Ms. Salma ElKhoury, and sons Drs. Johnny and Nabil Fares.
A group photo with members of the LAU community who attended the ceremony.
Mrs. Fares with “her children” from ACSAUVEL. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Fares)
(Far left) At the International Colloquium of Mayors on Social Development at the UN in 1994, in her capacity as mayor of Rabiyeh. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Fares)

In the 100 years since its foundation, LAU has graduated generations of civic-minded individuals whose achievements have exemplified the spirit of service upheld by their alma mater.

Among these outstanding alumni is the first woman mayor (mukhtara) in Lebanon, philanthropist and public figure, Nabila Jabbour Fares (’56), who obtained a bachelor’s in social work from LAU—Beirut College for Women (BCW) back then—to fulfill what she had determined to be her vocation.  

She spent a lifetime empowering children with special needs and marginalized communities, preserving the environment, and promoting Lebanese craftsmanship.

On May 7, 2024, Fares returned to her alma mater for an honoring ceremony hosted by LAU President Michel E. Mawad and organized by the Alumni Relations Office during which she was presented with the Alumni Recognition Award she had received in 2023.  She was accompanied by her daughter, Salma ElKhoury, and her sons, Drs. Nabil and Johnny Fares.

For decades, Fares presided over the Civil Association for the Safeguard of the Child in Lebanon (ACSAUVEL) she co-founded in 1976 to help mitigate the effects of the Lebanese Civil War on children, and which evolved to empower children and adults with slight and moderate mental challenges.

Her contributions to several national organizations dedicated to child welfare, community development, and Lebanese crafts earned her recognition and respect in Lebanon and internationally.

Among other accolades, she received the Lebanese Order of Merit from President Michel Aoun in 2022 and two Icons of Gratitude, from the Lebanese Maronite Order and Mount Lebanon Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

As mayor of Rabiyeh in El-Metn, a post she has held since 1985, Fares spoke at the International Colloquium of Mayors on Social Development at the UN in 1994 and was one of the five members who wrote the Final Declaration.

She maintained her ties to the university by serving on the alumnae board in the early 1960s, speaking on Founders’ Day, and as a member of the “President’s Circle.”

Welcoming Fares and her family on May 7, Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations Abdallah Al Khal noted that she had been nominated for the Alumni Recognition Award for her philanthropic work, the associations she has headed, and the opportunities she had provided for children and the youth.

By investing her talent in the service of great causes, said Dr. Mawad at the ceremony, she had made her country and her alma mater proud.

“I can only laud your long history of giving back and many years as a role model for all of us,” added Dr. Mawad. “We look up to you hoping that the younger generation will learn from you that leadership is sacrifice and worthy causes make us better individuals when we commit to them.”

Fares reciprocated the appreciation by recalling the “love” she felt for her alma mater from the moment she joined in 1953, “a special year” in her lifetime when women also got the right to vote in Lebanon.

“Looking back on my life,” she said, “I was lucky because of my family and my BCW where I was equipped with the high principles and training in all social humanitarian fields. Coming out to normal life, nothing shocked me because I was well prepared at university.”

Through anecdotes, she recalled memories of then-President William Stoltzfus, Rushdi Maalouf, Rose Ghorayeb (’32), Marie Sabri (’41), Rhoda Orme, Thurayya Malhas (’45), and Najla Dabaghi, who provided the students’ boarding meals, among others.

In the summer of 1955, she recounted, her class had camped in Ain Yaacoub in the Akkar region for 45 days during their training, and after the 1956 earthquake, she along with students in social work were recruited for rescue missions in Shhim and Maaser el Chouf. 

Her speech delighted and captivated the audience, including Vice President for Institutional Advancement Gabriel Abiad and LAU staff members in development, alumni relations, advancement and communications.

When the finest of LAU’s graduates are mentioned, Fares’ name will always be among them, said Dr. Mawad.

“The annals of LAU will have a bright spot for you as one special alumna who dreamt big and achieved much,” he added.