By Martie Thompson
Reza Shafii came to the United States from Iran in 1970, nine years prior to the overthrow of the Shah amidst the Iranian Revolution. “Iran is a beautiful country with a rich culture,” he said. “But we knew the monarchy was not the solution.” His father always advised his six children to get a good education and then leave. Five of the six children did just that, with Reza earning a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. His career included designing hotels for Marriott in Texas and Maryland. He and his wife Barbara now live in St. Johns Golf and Country Club and live an active lifestyle. Reza is a pickleball enthusiast and advocate; he calls the sport “fascinating and humbling.”
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: We met playing tennis in Michigan. We’ve been married for 42 years, but I always say we’ve been married for 50 years, counting the eight years we dated. We waited the eight years to get married because I wanted to buy a house and have my savings in order first. I always say, you should plan it, wait patiently for it, and then achieve it.
Q: When and why did you move to Florida?
A: We moved to Florida three years ago, because our daughter and grandchildren moved here four years ago. Our daughter, who has two Masters degrees, works in administration at Palencia Elementary School. We have two grandchildren, ages five and two; I think my job as a grandparent is to teach them to be responsible and compassionate.
Q: What do you like about living in St. Johns County?
A: It really doesn’t matter where you live — you have to make the best of it. You have to quickly learn to adapt and adjust. It was hard at first, because I had so many friends and colleagues in Maryland, but soon I got to know my neighbors, I participated in activities, and then I joined the Ponte Vedra YMCA to play pickleball.
Q: How did you get involved with pickleball?
A: I had played tennis most of my life, but after I hurt my knee in 2016, a friend called me and recommended pickleball. I immediately went to YouTube and learned all the details and technical aspects. I ordered a paddle from Amazon. My wife said, “You’ve never played pickleball before — how do you know you will like it?” That same year, I played at the 2016 National Senior Olympics in Maryland and won the silver medal in mixed doubles and the gold medal in singles.
Q: Why would you recommend pickleball?
A: It is the most fascinating and humbling game with the best social interaction you can find. I have always been athletic and have played soccer, tennis, golf and skiing. But with pickleball, once you start, you don’t want to quit. I play three days a week and I also golf three times a week. I highly recommend pickleball, especially for retirees in Florida. It’s a great way to meet people and leads to more social interaction, like maybe potluck suppers. Also, it enhances good health — being active helps prevent many things like arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: I love to do things outside; where else but Florida can you wear shorts and tee shirts all year? I enjoy yard work and my garden. I especially love growing citrus — navel oranges, Meyer lemons, mandarin oranges and grapefruit — and I have even grown an avocado from a seed.
Photo courtesy Reza Shafii
Reza Shafii in front of one of the oil paintings he painted.