Robert Bahadur is known for many things – his smile, his outstanding singing ability and his professionalism as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines in Charleston. But many people working in the airport know him as “the nicest guy in the airport.”
Behind the smile, and perhaps part of the reason for it, is a story of struggle to overcome religious persecution as a young boy and to beat cancer as an adult. Bahadur says it is his faith that gave him the strength to remain positive and to be a survivor.
“I’ve always been a very positive person,” he said. “When other people see the glass half empty, I see the glass half full. That’s what carried us through with my family and the day my family found out I had colon cancer.”
Bahadur, who is of Indian descent, was born a fifth generation Christian in Pakistan where the state religion is Islam. Religious discrimination led his family flee Pakistan. Plans to move to the United States when he was a boy were postponed when a family friend told them about racial discrimination in experienced in Texas.In 1969, when Bahadur was 15, his family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where they settled in and lived the kind of life they had desired back in Pakistan.
Bahadur went on to marry in India and start a family before moving to Charleston in 1992. He and his wife, a teacher, raised two daughters while he worked as a travel agent. Faced with buying the travel agency or making a career change, Badahur “came to the other side.” In 1998, he began work as a ticket agent for Delta Air Lines at Charleston International Airport.
“Delta is a great place to work,” he said. “I enjoy it so much.”
Over the years Bahadur held many positions, from ticket and gate agent to service excellence coordinator to CHS supervisor. A period of downsizing during Delta’s bankruptcy caused Bahadur to return to his previous role as a ticket agent in March 2011. He was happy to keep his job and do something he enjoyed. Then two months later bad news struck.
In June 2011 Bahadur had been feeling tired and was having difficulty eating properly. A few bites of a sandwich left him feeling stuffed. A visit to the doctor in July 2011 provided answers and a scary diagnosis: stage 3 and 4 colon cancer. A whirlwind followed: a month of tests followed by surgery to remove his gall bladder and part of his colon. Following recovery from surgery there was six months of chemotherapy. He went on medical leave. He was too sick and too weak to work.
“I did not realize how bad it was,” he said. “There were days that I would have the telephone on my chest but did not have the energy to pick it up when it rang.”
From his early days at the airport, Bahadur entertained employees and passengers with carols at Christmas. He missed Christmas 2011 because he was too sick from the chemo. He was feeling well enough in December 2012 to sing. A month later in January 2013 Bahadur got the all clear from his doctor and returned to work at Delta.