Durre Shehwar Nabi, devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister and loving friend, passed away at home in New York City on November 23, 2023, following a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 50 years old. Durre is survived by her husband, Bilal Rashid, and their daughter, Hana (17), and son, Faiz (14); her parents, Shamshad and Kausar, of Karachi, Pakistan; her brother, Usman, his wife, Lauren, and their sons, Aiden and Noah, of Los Angeles, California; her trusted Nanny Madelene; and her cherished dog Louis.
In her college application essay Durre described her childhood in Saudi Arabia, where she loved the “exotic communal zoo” of expatriate life. She felt “blessed by the global environment of the expatriate community in the Gulf” and considered herself “to be a patriotic citizen of the world at large”. She relished “aspects of foreign religions, cultures, and ideas” and found herself “addicted to the freshness, vividness, uniqueness of anything peculiar”. In this essay she shared her definition of ‘Home’: “the loveliness of Robert Frost’s New England woods; the taste of California oranges; a brassy saxophone playing outside a gloomy New York café” – and declared “I crave a pilgrimage of it all”.
Three decades after she wrote this essay, the hundreds of heartbroken attendees at her funeral prayers at the Islamic Cultural Center in New York and her burial site at Hillside Cemetery in Cortlandt Manor reflected the beautiful pilgrimage that was Durre’s life. The mourners were the exact communal zoo she lovingly described in her essay, with members of numerous religions, nationalities, age groups, ethnicities, and professional backgrounds. She had met this incredible group of people as she immersed herself in academics, law, business and parenthood in Karachi, Jeddah, Boston, Washington DC, and New York City – the ultimate menagerie where she lived half her life. Her greatest achievement was to earn the love, loyalty, and respect of so many people.
In the outpouring of condolence messages after her passing, she was described as a “trailblazer” with a “rare combination of genius and humility”. Friends referenced her academic excellence: she broke national academic records at high school in Pakistan and subsequently attended Harvard College, Georgetown University Law Center, and Columbia Business School.
But the vast majority of friends and family remembered her for something even more special than her academic and professional accomplishments: her impeccable character. Friends recalled her “warmth and kindness”, her “signature grace, humility, love, no judgement”, her “empathy and sense of restraint”, and her “infectious smile”. Numerous friends remarked that she was a “ray of light” with a unique sincerity and willingness to help people from all walks of life; one friend recalled that he was “blown away by the energy she invested in me” when he faced a challenge. Despite her own significant health issues, Durre had endless energy for helping others, and her friends and family were blessed by her selfless dedication, expansive love, and thoughtful counsel.
She was also remembered for her incredible poise and strength through her seven-year battle with cancer. One doctor remarked that Durre had shown more grace and dignity in impossible circumstances than most healthy people he knew. Friends recalled how Durre would deflect conversations away from her illness, showing more interest in talking about her friends’ lives, and she often downplayed the severity of her illness to ease the emotional burden on others. Durre fought against breast cancer with inspiring and ceaseless ferocity to the end. She immersed herself in learning about the most technical and complex medical aspects of cancer and sought out the best doctors in the nation. Her intense efforts to educate herself and challenge her doctors to fine-tune her treatments likely added several precious years to her life; these extra years were especially important in her capacity as a mother to two beautiful children who were in the formative years of their lives. In a moving tribute to Durre, her oncologist described her as among the “group of patients that are dearest to me” and that the “memories of [her] courage, determination, and endurance inspire us in the lab and clinic to continue to try to find a solution – they give sense to our lives as investigators”.
Durre met her husband, Bilal, through mutual friends. They married in 2003 and were due to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary in December of this year. The couple welcomed two children, Hana and Faiz, into their lives who immediately became the center of the couple’s world, and Durre passionately dedicated herself to motherhood. Hana and Faiz are her gift to the world; while she was proud of their academic and athletic accomplishments, she absolutely glowed when speaking of their kindness and warmth to others.
Durre was an active parent at Resurrection Episcopal Day School and The Dalton School. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of Dalton and served on the Board’s Committee on Governance & Trustees, the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and the Faculty & Staff Life Committee. Throughout her life, Durre remained passionate about providing girls in Pakistan the educational opportunities her loving parents gave to her. Durre served as a Board Member of both Iqra Fund, which establishes schools for girls in the remote, mountainous regions of Northern Pakistan, and The Citizens Foundation, which operates over 1,900 schools throughout Pakistan. Durre also worked as a volunteer attorney at Legal Services NYC to assist low-income clients on immigration matters.
Durre Shehwar, whose name means “pearl fit for a King” in Urdu, will be dearly missed but her incredible legacy and character will forever live on in the hearts of her family and friends.