Recollections of Times Gone By

In the following article Dr. George Fawwaz talks about the late Tamer K. Nassar (1902-1994) and the times they shared during the "good old days" of AUB.

With the departure of Mr. Tamer Nassar, the small number "old timers" at AUB, active or retired, gets even smaller. "Old Timers" are defined as staff members whose first contract with AUB was signed by President Bayard Dodge. Along with his contract, the young staffite, usually an AUB graduate, was given a printed sheet which clearly stated what he could expect in way of privileges and responsibilities. He was welcomed as a new member of a large family that had a claim on his loyalty. A song in the "AUB Handbook" -- also found in each student's pocket -- testified to this relationship. One stanza ended: "living as brothers, whether Arab, Greek or Turk, we're all for AUB." The nature of this relationship was demonstrated during the second World War (1939 - 1945),

Mr. Tamer Nassar with Dr. A. Kappers (1929)

also known as Hitler's war, when Bayard Dodge, a wealthy but humble man, raised the morale of his staff and students by sharing with them the sufferings and inconveniences of that cruel war. He himself paid a heavy price for it by losing his soldier son on the battlefields of Europe in 1945.

Devotion: AUB was thus completely devoted to research, teaching and service, and nobody who knocked at its door returned empty-handed. Furthermore, it was truly a regional institution: the freshman class ol 1929-30 consisted of 215 students, only 40 of them Lebanese. The rest came from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Sudan, Aden, Persia, Ethiopia, Cyprus, Turkey, Bahrain, USA and Sweden. In that same year, students and faculty represented 30 nationalities.

Newcomers to AUB do well to remember the words of Daniel Bliss in 1871 on the occasion of laying the corner-stone of College Hall by the godfather of AUB, William Earl Dodge: "This college is for all conditions and classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race or religion". Very recently, a distinguished American biochemist said: "He who denies his past, loses his future " So, our present-day professional politicians are kindly requested to leave this University in peace, so it can continue its cultural and scientific mission.

The practice of politics by students or teachers was forbidden inside and outside of the campus. A student who made a fiery political speech was dismissed forthwith. On the campus, you could study political science and learn democratic methods and techniques by joining one of several cultural societies, but you could practice politics only after graduation, when you finally rejoined your home community

Kappers and Nassar: Tamer Nassar joined AUB at a time when a medical science department was run by one professor and one instructor. In 1929-30 Dr. William Shanklin, professor of histology and neural anatomy, was on leave and was replaced by a distinguished visiting professor, none other than the great Dutch neurologist C.U. Arriens Kappers (still quoted by modern neurologists). Dr. Kappers took an immediate liking to Mr. Nassar and as we were told by medical students then, would not allow his photograph to be taken without having his assistant beside him! This does not surprise anybody who knew Mr. Nassar, for he was gentle, considerate, soft-spoken and responsible, always ready to help. The laboratory of microscopic anatomy was a paradise, especially if the student arrived there from the gross anatomy lab where the cadavers looked more like mummies than patients on the operating table. And the smell of the preservatives was such as to invite first-year medical students to start smoking, allegedly to withstand that odious odor! (Is that one of the reasons why so many physicians smoke?)

In Mr. Nassar's lab you sat comfortably on a chair, with a microscope and a rich set of slides prepared by Mr. Nassar all your own. The view to the blue Mediterranean helped you to think or relax! Dr. Shanklin and Mr. Nassar walked around, saw every student, asked and answered questions. During my days, most students learned more from the instructor than the professor, in spite of the latters international reputation as a comparative neurologist. For Dr. Shanklin talked so fast that some students heard only the last word of a spoken sentence.

In later years, Dr. Shanklin showed me a letter he had received from the editor of the Journal of Comparative Neurology, who not only accepted the manuscript submitted for

Page 22   AUB Bulletin, May 1995

publication but paid special tribute to the artistic perfection of the slides accompanying all manuscripts of the department: a clear compliment to Mr. Nassar's hard work and thoroughness.

Maintenance: Mr. Nassar, in addition to his teaching and administrative duties in the Department, willingly accepted responsibility for the maintenance of the building, Van Dyck Hall. You can be sure that the building then was in good hands: no water faucets leaking, no electric bulbs unnecessarily lighted, gates closed on time etc. etc. When I walk through the courtyard of Van Dyck Hall, I cannot help remembering Tamer Nassar and his devotion to that building. Whether Van Dyck Hall is as well maintained now as it was then I cannot tell - Miss Ibish is better qualified to answer this question.

Professor West: The illustrious chemist and mathematician W.A. West, son of Robert West for whom West Hall is named, acted for a long time as chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. The indefatigable professor made his daily rounds on the campus to inspect every tree and flower bed. Mr. Nassar told me of an

incident he witnessed near Post Hall. A student took the liberty of collecting a bouquet of roses from the garden adjacent to the building. Professor West happened to be around, and seeing this, rushed to the offender and imparted him a powerful slap on the cheek saying: 'These roses were planted for hundreds of passers-by to enjoy and not to be snatched by any one person.' Had this story not been recounted by Mr. Nassar I would not have believed it, for I never saw the docile Professor West, my favorite teacher, lose his temper. However, I must admit that the same mood takes hold of me when I see a female member of an AUB professorial household "harvest" all the visible wild and dainty little cyclamens in the ravine below the pinewood of Post Hall, or when I see three AUB students sitting on the top of a bench and laying the soles of their shoes, containing ova of hydatid disease on that part of the bench where normal human beings sit and lay their hands. This latter spectacle can be observed almost any time of the day on the benches facing West Hall when serious and reflective students discuss

"the deeper issues of life" (to borrow the words of a prominent AUB philosopher.)

Sense of humor: Mr. Nassar, who also had an exquisite sense of humor, once related to me a saying attributed to our legendary Cornelius Van Dyck. Said the latter more than a century ago: "Smoking has three main benefits. First, it imparts to the face of the smoker an image of serenity, in that he appears to be 70 years old when he is actually 50. (In those days, age was respected in this part of the world!) Second, no night thief can break into the house when he hears a continuous staccato of coughing inside! Third, no dog dares attack him, being afraid of the big stick he has to lean on while walking!

Mr. Nassar is survived by two sons and one daughter: Nabil, M.D., F.A.C.P., Director of AUB Health Services and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases; Khalil, B.Sc. Chemistry; Hilda, MLS, Director of the AUB Saab Medical Library.

Dr. George Fawwaz

Neuroanatomy students, circa 1953, with their instructors. Mr. Tamer Nassar is second from left. Dr. Shanklin is fifth, and Dr. Chorbajian is sixth.

Mr. Tamer Nassar (1902-1994).
AUB Bulletin, May 1995   Page 23

The above article is transcribed from a copy at the AUB's Saab Medical Library.


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Last modified: Fri Oct 6 18:38:39 2006 BL