By Theresa Vargas
January 1, 2004, 1:22 AM EST
About a year before an earthquake shattered the ancient city of Bam, burying in its rubble a California couple's future, there came an excited conversation between two Americans sitting at adjacent tables in Esfahan, Iran.
Gerald "Jerry" Dekker and Torr Dell'Oro, both on tours in the country, immediately bonded and started what would mark the beginning stages of a tragic engagement trip for Torr's brother, Tobb Dell'Oro, 41, who as a child lived in Saudi Arabia, and Adele Freedman, 39, formerly of Great Neck.
In the months that followed, Dekker would prepare a customized itinerary for the couple -- one that would capture the romantic and mystical Iran that Tobb remembered from a childhood visit.
"This was more than a vacation," said Dekker, a humanities professor at New College of California in San Francisco who organizes tours to Iran. "Tobb wanted to share with his fiancee a very special part of his life which was growing up in the Middle East ... He wanted to go there on his own as an adult and bring the woman he loved to share something that was very special to him."
It was to be a three-week trip -- one woven with sites of revered ruins and timeless tombs.
They started in Tehran and made it to Bam -- a remote city that has been compared by many to a scene from "Arabian Nights." It was the backdrop Dell'Oro chose for his Christmas Eve proposal to Freedman, a lawyer in Mountain View, Calif., whom he had met at a party in 1998 thrown by his market research firm, Dell'Oro Group, in Redwood, Calif.
"In this setting that was so romantic, so inspirational, so exciting, so exotic," said Dekker, who maintained constant communication with the couple and their tour guide Farzaneh Khademi. "They were just so incredibly happy. They felt they were sharing a very intense, powerful experience together.
"And then the earthquake came," he added in hushed tones, of the 6.7-magnitude tremor last week.
The roof of the couple's inn rained rubble onto them, trapping both for hours until Khademi and others, using their hands, pried them loose. Both were alive at the time.
"Oh my God, my purse, it has everything in it," Adele, still disoriented, screamed, said Dekker who called Khademi on a cell phone hours after the quake hit. "Farzaneh ran back into the rubble and retrieved her purse." Nothing made sense at the time.
Dekker's call came as Khademi drove the severely injured couple to the hospital, her voice teetering between distress and disorientation.
"She couldn't talk. She was in shock. She kept saying 'Jerry, Jerry, Jerry,'" Dekker said. "She said Tobb was in the hospital and very seriously injured, and that she was taking Adele to the plane to get her to Tehran to the hospital." In the days since -- ones filled with Freedman's parents rushing to get visas to visit their daughter and Dell'Oro's family mourning the death of a promising marketing firm executive -- Khademi has stayed by Freedman's bedside.
She hasn't yet told Freedman that her fiance bled to death.
"We're the ones that are going to break the news there," Freedman's mother, Annamae Freedman, said yesterday as she caught a flight from Kennedy Airport to meet her daughter in Tehran. "We're hoping she will be well enough to travel" home.
The family scrambles to remain optimistic. "The good thing is she is alive," family friend Adrienne Gordon Apat of Great Neck said. "Psychologically, she will have a tough time."
Of Freedman, who recovered from colon cancer five years ago, she added, "She, thank God, is a survivor." Meanwhile, across the nation, those who knew Dell'Oro mourn for a man they describe as adventurous, an "Indiana Jones-like figure."
"I don't think it sunk in yet," said Julie Learmond, a co-worker at Dell'Oro Group. said. "It's just extremely sad, somebody who had such a love of life.
"They were both so very excited about the trip," she added.
For months, the avid travelers perfected the details, Dekker said. Once the two were in Iran, Dekker received reports from Khademi that the couple was immediately awed, he said.
"They were happy," Dekker said. "They were so happy because it seemed so many of their dreams were being fulfilled."
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.
Posted on Thu, Jan. 01, 2004
By Sean Webby and Kim Vo
Tobb Dell'Oro, the Redwood City man killed in the Christmas earthquake in Bam, Iran, reminded his family of Indiana Jones, chasing adventures and new cultures around the world with his fiancee, Adele Freedman.
Now Dell'Oro's sister and parents hope his death, which has sparked remarkable compassion from the Iranian people and government, can foster an understanding between Iran and the United States.
It's what Dell'Oro -- who spoke Arabic and even a bit of Farsi, who had grown up in Saudi Arabia and who had marched just months before his death in anti-war protests in San Francisco -- would have wanted, his family said.
``There is friction between our countries,'' said Tam Dell'Oro, Tobb's sister and partner in a Redwood Shores market research firm. ``Maybe Tobb's death will be a conduit to help the people of America and the people of Iran see the outstretched hands of compassion.''
On Wednesday, as the Bush administration loosened financial restrictions against the Middle-Eastern country that President Bush had listed in his ``Axis of Evil,'' the Dell'Oro family spent the last day of the year telling stories about Tobb Dell'Oro over tea and tearful sighs at his sister's home in Portola Valley.
As they sat in the living room overlooked by a large Moroccan statue of a Bedouin on a camel, flowers of condolence arrived, and calls from Tobb Dell'Oro's friends from all over the world piled up on the answering machine.
But the Dell'Oros were most moved by how Iranians dug with their bare hands to free the two badly wounded Americans from the stone rubble of their hotel. And how their guide and driver made the desperate trek to the nearest standing hospital 200 kilometers away. Freedman survived. Dell'Oro, 41, died less than 30 miles from the hospital.
The Iranians are charging neither Freedman's nor Dell'Oro's family for medical treatment.
``It's an ancient tenet of their culture,'' said Walter Dell'Oro, 82, Tobb's father. ``The visitor is the highest priority.''
Katy Motiey, a friend of Freedman's who was born in Iran, agrees. When she heard that Freedman was dug from the rubble and taken to a hospital with crushed limbs, she immediately phoned her friends and family in Iran and asked them to look after her friend and colleague; the two work at GCA Law Partners in Mountain View.
Kindness of strangers
``The Iranian people have been so kind and so generous to her, she keeps telling me that,'' said Motiey, who has spoken to Freedman by telephone.
When Motiey called her family, no one hesitated to visit the American, though tens of thousands of Iranians also were killed in the 6.6-magnitude earthquake. ``She's in a foreign country, she's by herself,'' said Motiey, explaining why Freedman has attracted sympathy. ``That's the spirit of the people there -- very generous.''
Dell'Oro and his family have spent much of their lives quietly correcting what they see as misperceptions about the Middle East.
They grew up in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, where Walter Dell'Oro was charting for the first time the vast, oil-rich Arabian peninsula.
Tobb Dell'Oro loved both intellectual and geographic adventure. He piled up graduate degrees in engineering and business at Cornell University, went to work in the petrochemical and consulting fields and wandered the world for fun. Tam Dell'Oro recalled him fighting off prisoners on South America's Devil's Island and dodging the rocks of rioters in Morocco.
He and Freedman had planned his latest adventure in Iran for about two years. Dell'Oro told his sister and mother that he planned to ask Freedman to marry him there.
His mother warned him that traveling as an unmarried couple could cause problems in the conservative country, and the two shopped for cubic zirconia rings at the Stanford Shopping Center.
Warned against trip
Motiey, who left Iran in 1978, had advised Freedman not to go, saying it was too dangerous to visit a country the State Department had issued warnings about.
``We talked about the possible risks,'' Motiey said. ``Of course, an earthquake was not one of them.''
While the Dell'Oros wished for Tobb's death to become greater than their own heart-breaking loss, it still often struck them as some cruel and almost astronomically remote vagary of fate.
He and Freedman were not even booked at the ancient guest house they were buried in. They were booked at a modern hotel on the outskirts of town but apparently moved to be closer to the stone heart of the old city, the Dell'Oros said. The hotel where they did not stay suffered no damage.
Jerry Dekker, a professor of humanities at New College in San Francisco, said he arranged the couple's tour and paired them with his good friend and guide, Farzaneh Khademi.
It was she who helped dig the couple from under the collapsed stone.
She told Dekker this week that Dell'Oro had cried out that he was dying as they rushed to the hospital. Khademi told him to hold on.
Then Dell'Oro told Freedman he loved her. She said she loved him. And then he died.
By DEREK ROSE and BILL HUTCHINSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Monday, December 29th, 2003
A Fordham University Law School graduate was miraculously pulled alive from rubble in the devastating earthquake in Iran that killed her boyfriend.
Adele Freedman was in severe condition last night in a Tehran hospital after her tour guide summoned a rescue party to dig her and her boyfriend, Tobb Dell'Oro, out of a collapsed hotel where they were staying.
"That woman [the tour guide] is a hero. I don't know how we could ever thank her," Dell'Oro's sister Tam Dell'Oro told the Daily News last night.
Freedman's story of survival came on a day when rescuers had all but given up hope of finding any more survivors from Friday's predawn monster quake that killed at least 22,000 people and left 100,000 homeless.
Tam Dell'Oro of northern California said her brother and Freedman were vacationing when thequake hit. They had gone to the Iranian city of Bam to visit a 2,000-year-old citadel.
"They phoned us before the earthquake. They told us that they were so happy. That they were having such a wonderful time," said Dell'Oro.
The couple, who both graduated from Cornell University in upstate Ithaca, had traveled the world together, from the South Pole to Cambodia, Thailand and Burma.
After graduating from Fordham, Freedman worked as an associate at the White & Case law firm in Manhattan. She is now a partner in a northern California law firm.
"They loved going and exploring all the reaches of the world. They were a very loving and devoted couple," Dell'Oro said.
She said her family was touched that the couple's tour guide, Farzaneh Khademi, would set aside everything to search for her brother and Freedman.
"As soon as the earthquake happened she gathered up other people and went over to where Tobb and Adele were staying, and they dug them out," she said. "She put Tobb and Adele in her car and she drove through the pandemonium to the closest hospital."
The State Department said last night that Tobb Dell'Oro, 41, is believed to be the only American killed.
Tam said her brother, who ran a market research firm in California, and Freedman were "treated like royalty" before and after the quake.
"We are absolutely amazed at how the Persians [Iranians] have opened their arms," Dell'Oro said. "They were not put at the back of the line at the hospital. They were welcomed by the Persians."
Officials fear the final death toll in Bam will top 30,000. Only one man was pulled alive from the rubble yesterday.