HOUSTON -- In the eyes of 500 or more Lebanese-Americans, Lebanese President Amin Gemayel can do no wrong.
Of course, those 500 people readily admit they are biased. They are all in some way related to the Lebanese president and on Sunday gathered together to welcome him to the family's 50th anniversary reunion.
Each member of the family was subjected to strict security which required walking through a metal detector and searches. Name tags were provided for each guest, but no one seemed to mind.
There were just a handful of 'Gemayels.' Most of the name plates read 'Jamail,' the phonetic and Americanized spelling of the Lebanese name which U.S. Immigration officials changed when the first wave of Gemayels came to the United States in the 1890s.
'I'm just thrilled to death that he's our cousin and that he's here,' said Madelyn Jamail Jammal, whose great-grandfather was one of the original family immigrants. 'I'm just shaking inside.'
'I just want him to know we are united behind them completely for a free and united Lebanon,' Mrs. Jammal said.
Sunday's gathering celebrated the 50th anniversary of the American Jamail family social club.
'In 1933, we formed a social club, the United Jamail Club, to keep the family together. We planned the club's 50th anniversary for October, but decided to move up the celebration to this Sunday (after learning of Gemayel's visit),' said grocer Edward Jamail, who runs Jamail Brothers Food Market in Houston.
Jamail said he and others quickly got in touch with the club's 500 family members and changed the date of the party to Sunday, so the honored relative could attend.
Ed Jamail said he and others quickly got in touch with the club's 500 family members and changed the date of the party to Sunday, so the honored relative could attend.
Ed Jamail's fLther, Clarence, said there are four times as many Lebanese people living in countries other than in Lebanon.
Although under heavy security, Gemayel went from table to table to chat with relatives. He shook hands, kissed cheeks and hugged men and women who reminded the 39-year-old of earlier meetings with them.
Asked how he felt to be among so many relatives, Gemayel smiled and said, 'At home.'
One diItant cousin Julia Jamail Schmeichel stood at the edge of a roped off area waving to Gemayel and his wife, who were 10 feet away.
'We waved at him and he waved back. He sure is a darling and he looks like my brother,' Mrs. Schmeichel said. 'It's such a great honor to have him here. We know he's a busy man.'
Another cousin who visited Gemayel and his father in Beirut 12 years ago received a warm greeting from the president.
'It's been a long time,' he told Judy Trabulsi, who said she and her parents visited the Gemayels in 1971.
Heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey, although not a relative, sat next to the president during the breakfast. The doctor is a member of a Presidential committee set up to help in the reconstruction of Lebanon.
'I'm Lebanese, but I don't know if I'm a relative. But I would be honored to be part of the family,' DeBakey said.
With all the interruptions, Gemayel never ate his scrambled eggs and sausages. But he did make time to give the family organization a large silver platter from Lebanon.
'One hope is to see all of Lebanon united as our family is here,' he said. The presidental group then left Houston for a speaking engagment in Detroit.