Checkmate: Former refugee leads local chess club

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Ghodrat “Gary” Hemmati and his son Pasha, right, are a familiar site at the Wallaceburg library’s chess club, helping teach others the game. The Iranian immigrant moved to Chatham-Kent in 2018 and says he loves living in the municipality, calling Canada the “greatest country in the world.”

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ghodrat “Gary” Hemmati has made some big moves in his life.

The former refugee, who now calls Chatham-Kent home, came to the municipality following a long journey beginning in his native Iran. A military pilot, Hemmati was forced to leave the strife-ridden country as his life was in danger following the Islamic Revolution.

Now, Hemmati lives with his wife in a tidy home near Walpole Island First Nation, volunteering his time to teach others the game of chess at Wallaceburg’s library.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he can be found at the library, often accompanied by his son Pasha, leading the 15-member chess club.

Father and son are committed to sharing their passion for the game with others.

“Playing and teaching are different,” said the soft-spoken 72-year-old. “When you are teaching, especially children, you need patience…you have to be patient.”

Hemmati, who learned to play the game as a teenager by watching others in a park, teaches the game to both rookies and experienced players alike. He has lived experience, having taught his three children how to play chess before they even started school.

Plus, he helped start a chess club at his youngest son’s elementary school in North York, where he lived from 1995 until 2018, when he made the decision to buy his first home outside Wallaceburg.

“I was retired and we could not afford to live in Toronto,” Hemmati said, adding his wife Sakineh found the house online while surfing the Internet.

Hemmati said he and his wife love living in C-K.

“For me, it’s like a picnic, all flowers and grass,” Hemmati said, adding he enjoys his life in the municipality and Canada.

“As long as I’m living in a free country, I don’t care,” he said. “This is the best country…safe country and beautiful country. In my life I travelled half of the world and I never find better than here.”

Hemmati left Tehran as a refugee before coming to Toronto where he lived in a shelter. He first found work as a landscaper, and then in a Zeller’s Distribution Centre. After three years in Canada, he became a permanent resident and was able to bring his family, including his wife and three children, a son aged 17, a daughter aged 15, and his youngest Pasha, 5, to Canada.

When they arrived, Hemmati hadn’t seen them in three years.

Marta Dolbear, a staffer at the Chatham-Kent Public Library’s Wallaceburg branch, said the chess club is very popular thanks to the Hemmatis.

“We’re just really lucky to have them here,” Dolbear said.

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