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Nicole Sawaya


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Nicole Sawaya Obituary
Nicole Sawaya

June 14, 1952 - October 11, 2018

Margaret Ann Nicole Sawaya died on October 11, 2018, from complications due to cancer. Born on Flag Day, June 14, 1952, in Southern California, Nicole was an intensely focused artist, journalist, and leader of community radio. She worked as a news reporter for NPR in Washington, D.C. and at KQED in San Francisco before moving into radio management. Nicole believed in the power of radio to affect change, and her guiding principles were to take risks, support talented people, create partnerships, minimize hierarchy, and speak directly to the listeners. In 1999, while serving as the popular General Manager at KPFA, she was let go by Pacifica Radio Network after standing up to national management. 10,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Berkeley to protest her firing. Because of Pacifica's unfair treatment of Nicole and what that meant for community radio, San Francisco Chronicle noted that Nicole was "a human symbol for social and economic injustice." Soon thereafter, Nicole was named general manager of KALW in San Francisco, drawn to an audience she described as a "questioning, curious people who don't take mass media at its word." In 2005, Nicole was named Journalist of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists for her important contributions to the diversity and availability of news programming in the Bay Area. Then in 2007, Nicole was named Executive Director of Pacifica, a move celebrated by those who had rallied around Nicole, her efforts to speak truth to power, and her tireless work in non-commercial radio. Nicole was a Board Member of SPUR and worked for many other community organizations.


Prior to her radio work, Nicole was an actor with the New Shakespeare Company in San Francisco, and was a founder of Theatre Artaud and a current member of Project Artaud, an arts community in the Mission. When Nicole retired from radio, she cultivated an organic farm in Dos Rios, Mendocino County. Nicole was very proud of her Lebanese heritage. She traveled the world and had many adventures - from sailing in South America to being a mime in Paris. Nicole will be remembered for her beauty and grace, her wit and intellect, and possession of a never-ending curiosity.



Nicole will be sorely missed by her son Riley, his wife Seychell, and her pride and joy grandson Jett, as well as her brother, Richard Sawaya, nephew, Nicholas, many cousins and devoted friends. She is predeceased by her parents, Nicholas and Amelia Sawaya, and her sister, Helen. The family would like to thank those who were so kind to her during her illness, Dr. Lui, Anna Dowling, Mary Jo Schaefer, Linda, and Doris.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 14, 2018
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