A second-generation Arab-American, Lisa Halaby was a recent graduate of Princeton University working on a master plan for the Jordanian national airline when she met King Hussein. The twice-divorced Hussein, whose third wife had died in a helicopter crash earlier that same year, often visited the airport to keep an eye on progress. Soon he and Halaby were fleeing to the countryside on motorcycles for long lunches. Shared professional interests quickly led to a royal proposal, delivered at the king's mountain-rimmed Red Sea retreat. "It was aviation... which brought us together," said Halaby, whose father had been a U.S. federal aviation administrator and president of Pan American Airways.
The future queen did hesitate, however, before accepting the king's proposal. Her parents expressed concerns about the complexities of royal life and the intrigues of a royal court. While waiting for her answer, King Hussein continued to invite Halaby to his palace for dinner, movies, and discussions of Jordan's future. In the end, her feelings won out over her fears. Upon their marriage in 1978, Halaby converted to Islam and took the name Noor Al-Hussein, meaning "Light of Hussein." The traditional ceremony joining the brainy American beauty and the regal descendent of the prophet Mohammed lasted only four minutes and was performed with just a handful of male family members present. The money saved by keeping the wedding small went to Jordan's poor.
This charitable act would be the first of many for the queen. Her Noor Al-Hussein Foundation helps poor Jordanian women achieve economic independence through crafts, poultry raising, and bee-keeping. But finding a popular role among Jordanians has been a challenge for Queen Noor, whose American background makes her both a target and an unlikely Arab figurehead. Her loyalty and kindness to the king during his final illness until his death from cancer in 1999 won over many of her detractors, and Queen Noor's role in her adopted country continues to evolve without the king by her side.
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