Ghazali Ommaya married her husband, Ayub Ommaya, in 1984 and moved into this house in the Bradley Hills Grove neighborhood of Bethesda, Md. Although Ayub had completely renovated the house six years earlier, there were problems.
“When I got married to him in ’84, the house was already falling apart,” she said. “Not only that, the roof over the pool, it just caved in.”
Ayub had bought the 1951 house in 1972. After several years of trying to make do, the Ommayas decided to undertake another renovation.
“We got some prices that were ridiculously high,” Ghazali said. “I said to Ayub, ‘If the construction is anything like what you experienced before, we will not be able to stay in this house for very long.’ ”
Ghazali decided the only way to make sure the job was done properly was to teach herself the building trades. She began by enrolling in a carpentry class at Montgomery College — even though her gender, skin color and age set her apart from the rest of the class.
“It was a really nice experience,” said Ghazali, who was 41 when she took the class. “I tell you the people were so kind to me.”
On the first day of class, the teacher asked the students why they took the course.
“I said I’m here because I want to know why people like you charge people like me so much money,” Ghazali said. “He laughed and he laughed. He said, ‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and I’ve never had anyone say that to me.’ ”
After completing the carpentry course, Ghazali kept going.
“I also became an electrician in the process,” she said. “Once I did [carpentry], then I said, ‘Well, I have always been scared of electricity so let me do that.’ When it came down to the plumbing, I started it and gave up.”
Brass doors at the entry open to the foyer.
The Ommayas hired an architect to design the renovation, but Ghazali supervised the construction. In the middle of the renovation, Ayub became ill.
“It was an onset of Alzheimer’s, which is ironic because he was a neurosurgeon,” Ghazali said.
At Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, Ayub became interested in traumatic brain injury and went on to become an international expert in the field. He “was a pioneering neurosurgeon of Pakistani origin who is widely known for inventing the Ommaya reservoir,” according to a 2017 article in the journal Neurosurgery. The device allows chemotherapy to be administered at the site of brain tumors. He worked as a researcher and clinician at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, eventually becoming chief of neurosurgery. He was also a professor of neurosurgery at George Washington University.
The family moved to Pakistan where Ayub died in 2008. Ghazali remained in Pakistan until 2014 to allow the children to finish school.
A powder room has a lapis lazuli sink, a lapis lazuli inset in the counter and lapis lazuli tile in the mosaic on the floor.
When she returned to Bethesda, she wasn’t in a position financially to finish reconstruction of the house, which had sat empty for eight years. Like many widowed and divorced spouses, she was unable to obtain a loan.
“I felt like somebody is just trying to take advantage of me because I’m in this hard place,” she said. “Well, I don’t give up easily.”
After it was suggested that she turn the house into an investment property and apply for a commercial loan, she was able to gain the financing to complete the renovation.
Because of their previous experience, the Ommayas had made sure that this time the house was solidly built. Ghazali also chose exotic and durable materials such as Burmese teak reclaimed from a ship in Pakistan for the windows, steel for the floating staircase, a lapis lazuli sink in the powder room, rainbow stone from India at the entrance and brass entry doors.
“A lot of things I did for us,” she said. Had it been “with the intention of selling [the house], I wouldn’t have done them.”
The seven-bedroom, 10-bathroom, 11,777-square foot house is listed at just under $6 million.
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