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Shemi Amarsi-Sallis

Shemi Amarsi was born January 1, 1951 in Mombasa, Kenya and died August 16, 2016 in San Diego, California after a brief illness. She was the eldest of 6 children born to Gulamali and Katun Amarsi. She was reared in Nairobi, Kenya in the Ismaili community, a Muslim group known for their charitable efforts. She was the eldest of 6 siblings, so she became a caretaker for them early in life. She cooked for them and looked after their safety, especially when their mother was working. In 1974 she moved to live with relatives in Memphis, TN, where she began working in hospital pharmacies. While attending Memphis State University she met her future husband, James F Sallis, and they were married January 2, 1983 in Memphis. They lived in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego the entire 33 years of their marriage. Shemi worked over 20 years in the pharmacy at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest. Later in life she became an artist, guided by her own visions of beauty. She pursued a very wide diversity of approaches, so every work was unique. Her subjects ranged from flowers and landscapes to abstracts to spiritual allegories. Her media were also unusually diverse, including watercolor, acrylic, mosaic, tapestries, paper mache, and woven ribbons. Her creativity was apparent in her cooking, which many people enjoyed at parties at her home. One of her biggest pleasures was working out, relaxing, making friends, and swimming at the Wavehouse Health Club and Plunge at Mission Beach, until its closure. Shemi was a quiet and gentle person who showed respect to everyone and made friends of many tradespeople and shopkeepers. She traveled extensively to visit family and to accompany her husband on trips to scientific meetings all over the world. She leaves behind hundreds of relatives, friends and fans from dozens of countries. Her husband is Professor in the School of Medicine at UCSD. Her surviving siblings are Nina Mohamed from London, England; Shaidi Amarsi from Bolsover, England; Zahir Amarsi from Little Rock, Arkansas; and Yasmin Kara from Mombasa, Kenya.

The Beauties of Shemi

My Eulogy By Jim Sallis

Delivered August 20, 2016 at her Memorial Service

San Diego, California


A few days ago I lost the love of my life. I am not ready to say goodbye to her. Now I have a hole in my life, my heart, and my spirit. I want to share just a few of my favorite memories and reflections from our 39 years together.


You might wonder how a WASPy nerd from Mississippi ever got together with a Indian Muslim from Kenya. At age 20 Shemi decided she would see the world, so she left her home in Nairobi on vacation and did not go back for many years. She visited relatives in several countries before arriving in Memphis to visit her brother Zahir and her aunt Dolly, both of whom are at the service today. Shemi's relatives were refugees, having fled Uganda in the early 1970s when Idi Amin said the Indians could leave or be killed. Shemi was an undergraduate at Memphis State University, and I was a graduate student. Because she was failing psychology 101 she spent a lot of time at her teaching assistant's office across from mine. I could not take my eyes off her external beauty, and at a party on July 4, 1977 I had a chance to invite her on a date. Surprisingly she agreed, and that's when I started to learn about her inner beauty.

Shemi had her flaws, and we had disagreements, but I came to know her many positive qualities, which fueled a love that only grew over our years together. I want to share some of what I saw in Shemi. I appreciated her gentle spirit and quiet manner. She was affected by suffering, so she avoided hurting people. Most who met her were charmed. Maybe it was her understated humor, or her fascinating life story, or her generosity, or her smile. As time went on her smile was enough to make me smile, especially during the past few years when she had health problems that caused her to visit emergency rooms and hospitals. I treasured more and more all the moments we spent together when I got to share her smile.

Despite her gentleness, her nickname was "Simba", which is Swahili for lion. She got this toughness and capacity for anger mostly from her father, and from growing up on the streets of Nairobi. It was the Simba in her that gave her the courage to leave home. My most vivid example of her Simba spirit came during a trip to Rio de Janeiro for a workshop sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After a walk and shopping we were walking back to our hotel, right across the street from Copacabana Beach. As we walked past a group of people waiting for a bus a young man reached out and grabbed a small gold chain from around my neck. I was scared, but Shemi immediately started verbally attacking him while wagging her finger. "You stupid idiot. Why did you do such a crazy thing? You should be ashamed of yourself. Your mother will be ashamed of you." I had to pull her away from him. Though he broke the chain I later discovered it was still around my neck. A small victory.

A big part of Shemi's beauty was that she continually surprised me. The biggest surprise was that one day, probably in her late 30's, she started painting for the first time in her life. Her technical skills were not so great, but her creativity knew no limits. Every painting was different in style and subject matter. She surprised me again and again by doing mosaics, weaving ribbons, making sculptures of odd materials, and even making furniture. She surprised me by writing stories. She surprised me by writing poetry. This helped keep our relationship fresh, and I encouraged her creativity in every way I could.

She was raised in a religious home and close community, but she became even more spiritual in middle age, searching for different paths. She found comfort, guidance, and friends at the Krishna Temple. Several of her art works had spiritual themes, and the act of making her trilogy of sewn sequins on black velvet was a meditation and spiritual exercise. We made a short video of the making of her masterpiece, "The Mountain of Life," that will be shown at our home this afternoon, then posted on Shemi's website and youtube.

Though she was shy and socially anxious, she has hundreds of friends, fans, and admirers all over the world. She refused to go to other people's parties, but she was an enthusiastic hostess. Many, many people know her quietly presiding over great parties, always ready to spend time showing people around. The highlight was always the generous spread of delicious, cooked-from-scratch dishes she created. She enjoyed cooking and did it every day. I think cooking was like a meditation for her. She loved nurturing people with food, and she was traumatized by the one party where the food ran out. I was the luckiest recipient of her culinary talent because every day at work I would bring frozen plates with several dishes that smelled delightful and tasted even better. Because her food was made with real love and healing spices, it was good for the body and soul. Thank you Shemi for all your nurturing.

We traveled a great deal, so Shemi left behind a trail of admirers all over the world. Many of our parties were for international visitors, generating more Shemi-enthusiasts. Shemi really enjoyed making people happy through cooking and entertaining, so they did not forget her parties or her meals. Now it is gratifying to see the tributes and expressions of gratitude coming from her fans all over the world.

Shemi will be missed by so many, and I'm very happy you were able to come to say goodbye, pay your respects, and remember the good times and great times you had with Shemi. Her friends and fans are diverse on every dimension, showing how she treated each person as an individual. Thank you all for coming to this service.

I want to express my gratitude to Shemi's large family, which is dispersed over several continents, so most could not be here. From the very beginning of my relationship with Shemi they have been nothing but welcoming to me, so I do feel part of the family and relish all the time I spend with them. I have special thanks for Shemi's sister Nina, aunt Dolly, brother Zahir, and cousin Nazir, for coming to support Shemi and I when she was in the hospital. We worked together as a team to make Shemi's last days as pleasant as possible and plan for today's celebrations of her life. I will never forget how they helped me emotionally by staying in our house and materially by cooking great food and helping me figure out what to do next. Thank you.

Shemi left us too soon, but we all have wonderful memories of her. She did not have an easy life, but she had a spectacular life. She touched more people than she ever understood, just by being her warm, sensitive, and loving self. Please join us after this service for a celebration of her life at our home. You are all welcome.

Shemi, you made my life more beautiful. You will always live in my heart and elevate my spirit as I cherish the many years we had together.

Eulogy by Nina Mohamed, Shemi's sister

Delivered at her Memorial Service. August 20, 2016

Shemi Dear

I know you can hear


You have reached your abode

A new peaceful life you have sowed


Miss your phone calls and concerns for all we will

None other will fit the bill


Hear about your talents in art and cooking.

All were welcome without any booking


To your brothers and sisters you represented mummy

The times we had that were funny


Rest in peace my dear sister

We promise we will take care of your Mister.

Love Nina

Donate in Shemi's name


We invite you to send a donation in Shemi's name to a local San Diego organization that provides art instruction to disadvantaged youth. ARTS--A Reason To Survive, is an impressive organization, it is easy to donate, and be sure to indicate you are donating in Shemi's honor:

More tributes

Jim, I so clearly remember the sparkle in your eyes every time you introduced Shemi when she joined us for dinner or lunch during our many meetings. And it was obvious that she enjoyed being there too. I am so sorry for your loss. Just remember, her soul and spirit lives on, always looking ahead toward a new journey.

Prabhu Ponkshe, McLean, VA

I would like to leave my embrace and demonstrate my admiration and respect, in this moment of emptiness, you and can give a beautiful Shemi lesson of friendship and behavior for celebration of life.
Here in Brazil I leave my most sincere and affectionate hug.

Timoteo Araujo, São Paulo, Brazil


I remember Shemi as warm, friendly and generous. She opened her home to all and delighted everyone with her unique culinary creations. My condolences to Jim. Her passing is heartbreaking.

Marianne Brown, Poway, CA

Such a wonderful and kind person that you have shared with us, the SPARK team. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the family as our extended family.

Kymm Ballard, Cary, NC

I am so very sorry to hear of the passing of Shemi. I have fond memories of meeting her and being in your home where I enjoyed her art as well as food. I wish I had had the chance to get to know her better as she seemed to be an incredibly interesting person. I carry you in my thoughts and wish you comfort in remembering the time you had together and the experiences you shared. In deepest sympathy,

Karla Henderson, Estes Park, CO

My profound and deepest sympathy to Jim (and family) on the loss of your life companion, Shemi. Sending comforting thoughts to you during this time of sorrow with wishes of peace to all.

Kathe Conner, San Diego, CA

Such a lovely, thoughtful, gentle, and caring person. She will be missed by all who had the good fortune of being in her company.

David Kahan, San Diego, CA

Shemi had many wonderful traits. I appreciate her culinary talents, her willingness to share her home with others, her beautiful art, and her ever present generosity. She was kind to everyone and bless with many talents and interests. While we didn't get to see Shemi often, every time we did felt natural and authentic. We're grateful for the time spent with her.

Paul Rosengard, San Diego, CA

Aloha Jim, 
I am so sorry not to be able to be there but know that you will be surrounded by so many who love you and loved Shemi. There will be many stories of her sweet nature, her gentle kindness, and her creativity, art, food, and even your garden. We were all lucky to know her. I remember her giving Karen and I a Ganesha's that you stick on the end of a pencil. It was so wonderfully silly but typically thoughtful as Ganesha is the deity of education! I think if Shemi were to look down at us, from a glass bottom boat in heaven, she would see how many broken hearts she has left behind and smile to know how much good she has left in her wake. Hugs from Lois, the boys, and me.

Tracy Trevorrow, Honolulu, HI

Jim, While I never met your wife I know how much she meant to you and all who knew her. My deepest sympathies to you my friend.

Shellie Pfohl, Washington, DC

Shemi was a great artist who touched my life with talent and gentleness. Her impressions on my soul will stay with me forever like seeds from a brave but deep friendship.....thanks Jim, for taking care of her beyond we can imagine.

Maria Parenteau, San Diego, CA

Dear Jim,
I am saddened to hear of Shemi's passing. I have fond memories of Shemi's warm personality and know she will be greatly missed. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

Yi Yi Lee, Malaysia

To many in her world she lived for the past 45 years, she was Shemi. The quiet, gentle and kindly person who stood by her loving husband and whom she loved unconditionally and without reservations. Many in the family swore by your love for each other. You made a beautiful and loving couple. 

And to us - Shemi's siblings and family, she was a model of pure love. She cared for us, looked out for us. She was our guide and teacher and means much more to us than a sister; she was a great friend and unique person. 

We grieve her loss with you. We will all miss you Shemi

Yasmin Rupshi Kara, Mombasa, Kenya

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