Reminiscences of an alumnus

Tamer Nassar
in the Early Thirties
Its Golden Age

by G. Fawaz Ph.D., M.D.

Oft in the stilly night
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days before me.

I do not recall who wrote these lines, but I do know that when I see Mr. Tamer Nassar walking on the Campus with his characteristic gait, "fond memory" takes me back to the year 1929-30, when I was a Freshman in College. Mr. Nassar then was often seen with a strange-looking whitemaned but dignified old gentleman who wore golf trousers on all occasions. He was the renowned Dutch neurologist C. U. Ariens Kappers, who even now is often quoted in world scientific literature. Medical students told us that Dr. Kappers was so fond of his young assistant that he would not allow his photograph to be taken without having Mr. Nassar beside him.

In 1932-33 when I was a firstyear medical student, Mr. Nassar assisted Dr. Shanklin in teaching us embryology and histology. These were the days when the teaching staff of a medical science department consisted of a professor and an instructor.

To look back now at A.U.B. in the early thirties, it would seem in retrospect that that may well have been the golden age of this 120-year old institution.

The catalogue of the scholastic year 1929-30 shows that A.U.B. had 564 students in Arts and Sciences, 107 in Medicine, 30 in Pharmacy, 11 in Dentistry, 50 in Nursing and 30 in the Institute of Music, a total of 801. There were then no schools of Engineering and Agriculture. A.U.B. was one large congenial family and was administered as such. It was truly regional. The freshman class that year consisted of 215 students, 40 of whom were Lebanese. The rest came from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Sudan, Aden, Persia, Ethiopia, Cyprus, Turkey, Bahrain, U.S.A. and Sweden. Together the students and faculty represented over thirty nationalities.

The Brotherhood Society Cabinet, 1934-35.

Lebanese students came from all parts of the country. They were natives of mountain villages or towns along the seashore like Tripoli, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon or Tyre. The mountain villages in the North, East and South, even the far ones like Kfeir, Hasbaya, IbI-as-Saki, contributed their share of students and teachers to this institution and were part of the cultural revival that took place in this part of the world during the nineteenth century.

No wonder that we were constantly reminded of the words of Daniel Bliss, spoken at the laying of the cornerstone of College Hall by William Earl Dodge in 1871: "This College is for all conditions and classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race or religion."

Even our small A.U.B. handbook which we always carried in our pockets reminded us of this. It contained such songs as the Cedar Song with the chorus beginning thus: "Sing to our Alma Mater, Queen of the East is she," or the Al-Kulliyyeh Song which ended thus: "Living as brothers, whether Arab, Greek or Turk, We're all for A.U.B."

There were many societies on Campus. The most important was the West Hall Brotherhood, a joint faculty-student enterprise which in reality was a living miniature of A.U.B. It carried the motto: "The realm in which we share is vastly greater than that in which we differ," and was a utopia, but one that worked, at least as long as it lasted. The president of the Brotherhood was chosen yearly from among the prominent members of the faculty, such as Dr. Dorman, Prof. West or Prof. Zurayk.

The Brotherhood comprised many active committees such as the Social Service Committee which catered even to homeless street boys of Beirut. The Deputations Committee sent out teacher-student groups to visit high schools in this and neighboring countries to inform prospective students about A.U.B. The Freshman Week Committee entertained Freshman students and made them feel at home on arrival in October. The Social Committee arranged for social gatherings of all sorts and among other things, maintained a house in Antilyas where any group of students or teachers could hold a seminar during the weekend. The philosopher-psychologist Laurens Seelye, for example, would take one of his classes there and reflect on the "deeper issues of life."

Other societies like the Youth Service Club (at one time headed by the late Ismail-al-Azhari who later became Prime Minister of Sudan) and the Students Union followed programs similar to those of the Brotherhood. Then there were many active literary societies such as Al-Urwat-ulWuthqa.

Teachers were accessible to students at any time and without previous appointment. Teaching was of a tutorial nature, in practice if not in name.

West Hall, a gift of Cleveland Dodge, father of Bayard Dodge, one of A.U.B.'s presidents, was named after the eminent mathematician Robert West whose son William was later a professor of Chemistry for many years. West Hall was not only a students' union as in other American universities, but much more. If any one building could claim to be the cultural and spiritual center of Beirut, it would certainly be West Hall. It housed the Institute of Music which gave a three-year course that ended with a diploma conferred during commencement. The Music Institute was affiliated with Alfred Cortot's Ecole Normale in Paris, and Cortot himself once came to Beirut to give a piano recital in the West Hall auditorium.

Bayard Dodge , President 1923-1948.
He seemed to be receiving when he was giving.

Every Saturday afternoon we listened to a concert in the auditorium. One week it was a symphonic concert, the next week chamber music. Many dignitaries honored us with their presence and President Dodge had a special row of comfortable chairs installed for such VIPs just below the beautiful gallery that no longer exists. Once, during the academic year 1931-32 when President Dodge was on furlough and the Secretary of the University, Mr. Stewart, replaced him,no less a person came to attend the concert than the wife of the French High Commissioner. She arrived about ten minutes late and the concert had already started. Luckily, the first item on the program was a 'petite suite' and she had to wait outside only a minute or two. Yet she was furious and she even cried. As luck would have it, I was the first to suffer from her wrath s.ince I was an usher outside the front door.

"Why did you not wait for me," she asked (in French), "You knew I was coming, n'estce pas?"

I said nothing, of course. Mr. Stewart tried to appease her during and after the performance but I could see he was not successful. I cannot prove it, but I firmly believe that had President Dodge been there he would have waited for her. One of my classmates who was also usher said to me the next day, "You are an ass! If I were you, I would have told her, 'Madame, your husband represents democracy in this part of the world!' " I retorted, "It is not too late. Why don't you write her a note to this effect?"

But we had to pay a heavy price for insulting Madame le Haut Commissaire. During the commencement of June 1933 held on the Hockey Field, now called The Oval, the audience had to wait for thirty minutes until the Marseillaise ushered the delegate of the Haut Commissaire, namely his secretary. His Excellency, although a frequent guest at the UniversitŽ St. Joseph never condescended to visit A.U.B. I rarely felt so humiliated in my whole life! We often scoff at the inefficiency, even corruption of our present rulers, but they are our own people and we can vote them out of office. There is nothing dearer than freedom, especially independence from foreign rule.

Bayard Dodge (A.U.B. President from 1923 to 1948) never complained about it, but I have every reason to believe that he had as much trouble with the French mandatory authorities in Beirut as his predecessor and father-in-law Howard Bliss had with the Turkish rulers during World War I. Even our Lebanese students studying at the French Medical School during the thirties felt incomparably superior to us. "There is no such thing as American medicine," they would say. "One may talk of American technology, but not of American culture."

But French men of medical science were in a state of hibernation in the thirties; they were resting on the laurels earned by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard in the 19th century, while their American colleagues were working diligently to lay the foundations for a golden age of science.

After World War II a scientific explosion took place in the U.S.A. At present, the march of science there may be likened to an avalanche, unprecedented in the history of mankind. To test my contention, all one needs to do is to count the number of U.S. Nobel prize winners in medicine, physics and chemistry since 1946 and compare it with the number of Nobel laureates in France or even in the rest of the world. Even Lebanese graduates of French medical schools are now modest and gracious enough to seek postgraduate training in the U.S.A.!

Back to West Hall. It was not only a cultural center but one of architectural beauty too. So was the neighboring Jessup Hall before both buildings were mutilated in a "renovation" process at the hands of architects who received their diplomas from Barbaryland. Fortunately, other buildings like Dodge Hall, College HaIl,the Chapel, Post Hall, the old Medical Building, Fisk Hall and Bliss Hall at least retained their outside appearance, though most were mutilated from the inside. So was, for instance, the stately marble-floored office of President Dodge in Dodge Hall, with life-size portraits of the philanthropists who supported the Institution. This once great office is now a kitchen where onions and potatoes are peeled and from where the smell of roasted meat emanates to the rest of the Campus. How easy it is for man to bury and forget the past, even when that past is adorned with glory and accomplishment!

Mrs. Dodge herself saw to it that the buildings were kept clean and in good order. She paid daily visits to West Hall, and supervised the staff tea which took place every afternoon in the staff lounge. Once a month, tea was held at Marquand House, the President's residence, and if a staffite failed to appear, he was sure to be gently rebuked later by Mrs. Dodge: "We missed you on Friday afternoon."

Edward E. Nickoly, the Iron Dean.

Three bedrooms were also available in the uppermost floor of West Hall for visiting alumni, who were made to feel at home in their old Alma Mater. During commencement week, an alumni banquet was held in West Hall's Common Room, and alumni marched in the commencement procession ahead of the graduating students, so it was not uncommon to see father and son walking in the same procession.

Only a handful of guards, gatemen and gardeners were needed to maintain the Campus beautiful and clean. No papers, empty bottles, tins or cigarette butts were strewn on the grounds. The ever-watchful dean of Arts and Sciences saw to it that law and order were maintained. If a student was seen loitering outside the Main Gate he was advised to make better use of his time by visiting the beautiful library in College Hall. What would Dean Nickoley think were he to see hundreds of students idling for hours on the steps of West Hall!

The President employed only one secretary, an efficient but stern British lady who also did all the work now performed by the Personnel Office. She also protected the President against unwelcome visitors. Once, a staffite took it upon himself to "visit" the President, only to be turned back with the remark: "The President is too busy to see people like you." The President often typed his own letters and memoranda and so did Dean Nickoley. There was no purchasing department. All business matters including local and foreign purchases were handled by the University secretary-treasurer assisted by three or four employees. The Registrar's Office was run by two or three employees. The President ran the University as though it were his own home, and the yearly deficit was made up by payment from his own pocket. The University was beholden to no government and the U.S. consul in Beirut was treated on the Campus as politely as the Egyptian consul. In other words, A.U.B. was meant to teach and not to reduce unemployment in Lebanon.

The attitude of the students was, in general, exemplary and left little to be desired. After a long war, students wanted to make up for the time wasted without proper schooling. They were just thirsty for knowledge! They felt privileged to be college students. Unfortunately, education was expensive and only sons of rich parents could afford it, as one needed 80-100 gold pounds a year, a sum of money with which one could buy half a house in Ras Beirut. Nowadays, students feel it is their right to study at a private university like A.U.B. and if they have no money, some students feel that A.U.B. is obliged to secure the money required to teach them. Some students feel they are doing their teachers a favor by attending classes and still others choose as their motto the familiar phrase coined by the late Dean Nickoley: "Teach me if you can!"

Bayard Dodge's wisdom enabled him, during the years of his presidency (1923-48), to keep A.U.B. out of politics altogether. To this effect there was an unwritten agreement between him and the students. His arguments were simple and convincing:

While a student is still on the campus, he can study political science in preparation for a political career. The many literary and cultural societies and clubs in A.U.B. were operated according to recognized and democratic principles, and a student could learn such democratic 'techniques' as Robert's Rules of Order, etc. However, the actual practice of politics was prohibited on the Campus and could take place only after graduation, when alumni return to their respective communities.

It is idle to think that President Dodge took these measures in order to avoid conflict with the French mandatory authorities. It is my firm conviction that if Bayard Dodge were president of A.U.B. today, he would keep it as uncontaminated by politics as during the twenties and thirties of this century. He would not allow any government, local or foreign, or any political party to have a say in the running of the Institution.

This was the paradise which I entered in October 1929 coming from the American Merj High School, a small piece of real estate (less than 2000 sq.m.), consisting of a church that served as the main study room and five or six adjoining recitation rooms. But it is not the building that counts since, according to Schiller, "it is the mind - or the spirit - which builds for itself a body." The school faculty was of high caliber and headed by a great disciplinarian and pedagogue. K. Kurban, a graduate of S.P.C. and a product of Howard Bliss's schooling. He Prepared us adequately for later study at A.U.B. Besides, I had received enough information about the College and Medical School from my father and two older brothers. The names Bliss, Dodge, Van Dyck, Post, Webster, Graham, Adams, Moore, Day, West, Close had been familiar to me since my early childhood. Thus the transition from high school to college was as smooth and natural as could be and I enjoyed my years at college immensely.

On the day of my arrival, while standing inside the Main Gate with some older students including KhaIiI Wakim, of Mayo-Clinic fame - the President whisked through coming from the outside. He stopped to shake hands with every one of us making a few pertinent remarks. I had seen him in photographs but never in person. What a majestic figure! An aristocrat if ever there was one, and a man of God, meek and humble. Our headmaster in high school had seen him in action helping needy people when, during World War I, hunger and illness were devastating the country. He had told us Bayard Dodge reminded him of John Henry Newman's words defining a gentleman: "He seems to be receiving when he is giving."

Two other prominent figures on the Campus, E. F. Nickoley and L. H. Seelye, I had already seen at the High School Conferences in Sidon and Baalback, 1926 and 1928 respectively. Nickoley was the Iron Dean of Arts and Sciences and is still remembered as such to this very day even by the ordinary people of Ras Beirut. He was respected, even feared but loved by all students. But I never feared him, as I had realized early in the game that the man possessed a sense of humor but so subtle that not everybody noticed it. The famous physiologist Hermann Rein once said that a good sense of humor is an indication of good mental health.

In the summer of 1934, the Social Committee of the West Hall Brotherhood asked me to plan the usual Freshman Week for new students, a week which was meant to acclimatize students to the A.U.B. environment. I chose ten older students to act as guides in this program and presented the list to the Dean for approval. He agreed to all except the only two who came from my own district, one being the late W. Mitri, so well-known in recent years for his social service activities. In planning the very last evening before classes started, I thought of offering the new students a unique type of entertainment. Four speakers were chosen to entertain the new class: a senior student, Farid Yaish, a graduate assistant, Fuad Mufarrij, an instructor, Afif Tannous and the last speaker, the Iron Dean himself! I went to him and was brave enough to ask him to be so kind as to tell the boys how he himself felt when he began his Freshman year at college. "The idea," I said, "was to make them not only relax but, if possible, to laugh." When he answered, he did not look at me but smiled at the floor: "Yes, yes, you mean instead ot heavy advice." That evening was a great success; all speakers did well, especially Afif Tannous, but the Iron Dean outdid himself. He not only did what he had been begged to do, but promised to be the 'godfather' of the class, and that for a good reason. He said that in June 1938 he would "graduate" with them, that is retire. His last words were: "Till then, let us do a good job. Let us make it." The effect on the morale of the class could well be imagined. But alas! our good Dean did not live till 1938. He did not make it.

A few days after that memo. rable evening, Dr. Nickoley met me on the road near Marquand House. He stopped me and said: "I want to offer my special thanks to you for what you have done for the new students. I did not thank you in public as I knew you would feel embarassed."

In the spring of 1935 when he knew I was preparing to go to Europe for further graduate work, he, without being asked for it, wrote for me a recommendation along with a note saying: "This may be of use to you." A couple of years ago, I discovered that original recommendation among my old papers, grown yellow with age. I have been asking myself since then whether I deserved it. So this was our "Iron" dean!

Philosophy class 1929. L. to R. First row: Afif Tannous, Laurens Seelye, Alice Tean, Zeine Zeine. Second row: A. L. Tibawri, between Seelye and Teen. Third row: Abdul Rahman Barbir, John Mirhij.

Another unique and extremely popular personality on the Campus was the towering Laurens Hickock See lye, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology. He was over seven feet tall and a student once enquired about the weather at the level of his head! He was known for his originality, and once while talking in Chapel he tore into shreds a 25piaster bank note in order to illustrate a point. At that time you could buy a kilogram of meat for 25 piasters! When he spoke he magnetized and captivated his audience. He was a great actor and you could not but note every word he uttered. But he always had something to say, a message to transmit. Even when he prayed he was original as when he started with the phrase: "Great spirit of life." He taught me social science during the Sophomore year. However, philosophically inclined students like Dr. Zekin Shakhashiri - a native of AlKura, cradle of wisdom and philosophy - who took philosophy courses with Seelye thought very highly of his philosophy.

Seelye held another prestigious post which had been occupied by Bayard Dodge himself before he became president, namely the directorship of West Hall. For if West Hall was the cultural center of Beirut, it needed an able head, and Seelye was one.

I recall how, at the end of one year, he was taking stock of personalities of international fame whom he had invited to A.U.B. to talk to the students: people as different as a certain bishop who had been chaplaingeneral of His Majesty's forces in World War I, and, believe it or not, Gene Tunney, the World' heavyweight boxing champion! It certainly takes a Seelye to invite Tunney to talk to students at the Sunday evening service in Chapel! But I never in my life saw Chapel as crowded as when Tunney spoke. In his speech, Tunney said among other things that he considered Jesus a sport!" But it is a mistake to think that Seelye collected his speakers only from among visitors to Beirut. He invited them from all corners of the Globe and found donors to fund such lectureships.

The assistant director of West Hall was none other than Dr. Zeine N. Zeine, our esteemed Professor Emeritus of History. Zeine was polyvalent when he started teaching. He taught me sociology and chemistry in Freshman. During Sophomore year he taught me social science, a multiauthored course planned by Seelye and Nickoley, and certainly the best course I enjoyed in Arts and Sciences.

Zeine was also Chairman of the West Hall Ushering Committee and his love of law and order made him constantly remind us that the Ushering Committee was a semi-military organization! That may well be a reason why he specialized in the history of the Ottoman Turks! In 1968, he took my photograph in his office on the fourth floor of College Hall, making sure that two rows of color portraits of the BeniUthman Sultans appeared in the background. But the Chairman of the Ushering Committee promoted me from subaltern to lieutenant and when my turn came to be head-usher I was a medical student. I had to resign, realizing that ushering and anatomy were incompatible. Zeine was one of our most inspiring teachers and he continues to be a great source of counsel to his many friends and admirers.

I said that the transition from high school to college was pleasant and smooth. It represented a promotion. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the change from Arts and Sciences to the school of Medicine: it was a traumatic demotion, back into the elementary school! This was on account of gross anatomy and the way its chairman conducted the teaching of that course. During our last year as chemistry majors, we were treated by our three main professors, Drs. Close, West and Constan, not only as graduate students but even as colleagues. They were scholars with an exquisite sense of humor, particularly the shy professor West. I was also introduced to Dr. S. E. Kerr the eminent biochemist who got me interested in some fascinating problems he was trying to solve.

Now we were suddenly confronted with the cadavers of anatomy which, with regard to color and consistency, reminded you more of mummies than patients on the operating table or even dead people being autopsied. The Professor of Anatomy, as he liked to call himself, had the appearance of a handsome Roman emperor and he was well aware of it, for he acted like one. I never saw him laugh, though he occasionally smiled, condescendingly. You could not relax in his presence, as any innocent remark could produce a violent reaction on his part. When it pleased him to attend the daily Chapel services, he sat on the platform in the front row and, when possible, right next to the President, although the front row was reserved for full professors and he was an associate professor. He would sit for full 20 minutes like a statue, so much so that once our late witty pathologist Nimr Tukan shouted to him in Arabic across the audience "Taharrak! Move and show us you are alive!" Some thought he was best suited to be an army general and, indeed, he concluded his career in the armed forces of his country. He studied medicine at the University of Michigan and was convinced that there was no place on earth where anatomy was better taught. He even founded a "Michigan Club" at A.U.B. for teachers who had studied at Ann Arbor! He thus introduced the Michigan dissection manual of his illustrious teacher.

This is the manual which starts with the Trapezius, Latissimus dorsi, Multifidus and Sacrospinaus. How many precious hours were spent learning the origin, insertion, nerve supply and action of the Sacrospinalis in its three columns and various parts of each column! But the Professor of Anatomy kept repeating: "Gray's anatomy is a reference book; you only need to learn what is clinically significant." We soon learned, however, that the structures of clinical significance were those which he happened to remember. If, in the course of the dissection he came across a small vein which he knew, then that was truly significant; yet if he stumbled across a big artery or nerve which he could not identify, then it was of no clinical value.

Our Professor of Anatomy was convinced that gross anatomy was the most important subject in medicine. It was taught in Med I as Gross Anatomy, in Med II as Topographic Anatomy, in Med Ill as Applied Anatomy and in Med IV as Surgical Anatomy. I used to read the examination questions of the advanced courses and concluded that a first year student in June could answer all those questions.

This reminds me of Dr. Bahij Azouri's French teacher in Sidon who said to his students, "Boys, we have two courses for supper tonight: Mikta salata and Mikta arsh." During the recitations there being no lectures - the professor would ask a student to describe a structure while he stood at the window gazing at the courtyard of Van Dyck Hall. As long as the student kept talking all went well; he could say the most absurd things on earth. But if he got stuck, the professor would scold him as though he were a student in a village elementary school. So the students drew their conclusions early in the game: Take no chances; memorize Gray thoroughly. It was indeed a remarkable feat, but at what expense! As far as I was concerned, the trauma to my memory proved to be irreversible!

The Professor of Anatomy had two associates in 1932-33, both natives of Al-Kura. Of the two, the junior associate had a more delightful Kurani accent! He preferred Cunningham's textbook to Gray and while dissecting he would ask one of the students to read to him from Canninhan.

The senior associate, M.D. 1928 (with distinction) soon became a better anatomist than his chief. There was no structure, no matter how small, that could hide long from his probe, so he was the undisputed 'master of the probe.' He also had a phenomenal memory. Once, one of my brilliant classmates spent a week to learn the most difficult assignment in anatomy, namely the temporal bone, only to discover during the recitation period that the 'senior associate' knew it better.

The junior associate, M.D. 1931 (with distinction), had his own way with the boss. Yet, he learned and required from his students as much anatomy as was required for general medical practice. He was not like a bamboo cane, that would be swayed by a burst of breeze, but more like a lofty mountain that could not be shaken by a storm. He is our emeritus professor of anatomy, still in private practice, and one of the best - if not the best family physician in Beirut.

How did the Professor of Anatomy get along with his colleagues, heads of the other medical science departments? One of the senior professors said to me a few years later, "The only way to tame the anatomist and thus have peace during the Preclinical Committee meetings was to elect him as chairman of the committee!" How true to life! Did not Neville Chamberlain tame Adolf Hitler in 1938 by offering him the Sudetenland and thus achieve 'peace in our time,' a peace that lasted exact. ly one year? Professor Seelye, in his psychology course, described some teen-agers as rebellious adolescents. Some rebellious adolescents never mature and they usually have their way in life. Everybody wants to avoid a confrontation, nobody wants to have a "scene," hence "laissezfaire.

I have gone into so much detail describing our 'professor of anatomy' because such characters are found in abundance, especially at universities. Not long ago, a visiting Oxford scholar described a university as a collection of eccentrics. Furthermore, I personally feel guilty because we are doing to our medical students what our "professor of anatomy" did to us, except that we have substituted Goodman and Gilman and Harrison for Gray.

We teach medicine during four years instead of five (as in the thirties) although accumulated knowledge in medicine has grown astronomically. We require so much detailed knowledge because the students have to sit for the National Board, ECFMG, VQE and RSVP examinations, the questions of which may have been prepared by professors who had studied "in Michigan!' I predict we shall soon witness a revolution in medical education.

The course in biochemistry to which I had been looking forward after my brief contact with Dr. Kerr also proved to be a disappointment, although I thoroughly enjoyed the laboratory part planned so carefully by Dr. Kerr. Dr. Kerr was on furlough that year and he was replaced by a visiting professor, allegedly a great man because he was author of a textbook of biochemistry widely used but deplorably uninspiring. The professor from Galveston, Texas spent the first semester reading to us verbatim from his textbook and I can swear that my biochemistry lecture notebook remained a blank. What a waste of time and money, and what a difference between him and Kerr who, as I found out when I was his graduate student, made even undergraduates feel as though they were not only witnessing but also assisting in the birth of an epoch-making discovery!

During my years with Dr. Kerr, he, like his own teacher in Philadelphia, spoke disdainfully of people who do nothing but write textbooks. Needless to say, there are people who are both good experimentalists and writers of monographs and textbooks.

At the end of the biochemistry course in February and just before the final examination, the Med I students held a farewell reception in West Hall in honor of the visiting professor. Dr. Dorman, head of Obgyn, made a short speech in which this exchange of professorships was described as unique in the history of medical education. How untrue, I reflected. In reality there was no exchange. At that time Dr. Kerr was at Harvard Medical School where he succeeded in demonstrating the presence of phosphocreatine in brain tissue, and isolating the substance in Beirut a year later.

Even the course in physiology was not a success. It made me lose my enthusiasm for physiology and, to revive it, I had to wait for several years till I studied it under Hermann Straub (the internist) and Hermann Rein at the University of Göttingen. The physiologist at A.U.B. meant well but he was very limited. I was sorry for him because I felt he was unjustly persecuted by both faculty and students.

Dr. Kappers. At his right Tamer Nassar

This leaves us with histology, which, like physiology, was given in the second semester anatomy, being anatomy, was given all year round - and we thus return to where we started, to our dear Mr. Tamer Nassar.

What we now call the department of human morphology consisted then of two departments: gross anatomy, histology and neural anatomy. The head of the latter department was a godfearing, honest and modest scholar. He always reminded us that he knew no more histology than we did. His strength lay in comparative neurology. Dr. Kappers also infected him with his own hobby, anthropology, and like Dr. Kappers, he measured skulls of people and also made some students like me do the job for him. As a neurologist, however, he was particularly fond of the brain of the chameleon and was recognized as the world authority on that subject. He talked so fast that he often swallowed syllables or even words. If he asked you to identify a structure under the microscope meaning to say: "What is that at the tip of the pointer?", you heard only the word pointer. When he pointed to Mr. Nassar's laboratory adjoining the student's lab he said, "Mister Sore's office." And to this very day I greet Mr. Nassar as Mister Sore. It is very difficult to describe Mr. Nassar and do him justice. Not only was Dr. Kappers fond of him, but so were all students and faculty as well.

Mr. Nassar reminds you of the words of Goethe: "Edel sel der Mensch, hilfreich und gut." (Noble be the human being, benevolent and good.) Nothing pleases Mr. Nassar more than to be able to assist a student in despair. He is always smiling, composed, soft-spoken and I never saw him lose his temper. The laboratory sessions in histology were not only a pleasure for us but a relaxation as well. But it is a mistake to assume that Mr. Nassar was less demanding than other teachers. No student was allowed to leave the laboratory before completing the assignment satisfactorily. Three of us, the late Drs. Hassan Idriss and Shukrallah Karam -author of the familiar saying, "If the patient recovers, it is due to Allah, but if he dies it is the fault of Shukrallah" - and I were close friends and competitors as well. We were seated together, right next to Mr. Nassar's office. We used to finish our lab work early and demand from Mr. Nassar a "bonus." To us, this meant a collection of beautiful slides which Dr. Kappers had bequeathed to Mr. Nassar. It was intended to test our diagnostic abilities, and we appreciated the special attention paid to us.

But Mr. Nassar could also cheat! The laboratory part of the final examination consisted of some twenty slides which he had just prepared for that purpose from animal material. I had difficulty with one slide and was annoyed. It consisted of nothing but connective tissue! I complained to Mr. Nassar: "This slide cannot be part of Dr. Kappers legacy." Mr. Nassar looked at the slide, moved it, then left without saying a word. When I looked again I saw, at the tip of the pointer, cartilaginous tissue and realized I was looking at a lung, but it was anything but typical.

Mr. and Mrs. T. Nassar with children. L. to R. Nabeel (MD '65), Hilda (Medical librarian) and Khalil.

Mr. Nassar was born to an old and distinguished family in Ain-Ksour adjacent to Abey in the Shout mountains where in 1843, long before the founding of the Syrian Protestant College, Cornelius Van Dyck started his Academy.

Mr. Nassar can boast of 44 years of full-time and 16 years of part-time service to this Institution, and this constitutes an enviable record. He states that one of the most rewarding experiences of his long career has been the frequent discovery that one or more members of a new class had been children of his former students. For instance, we have just mentioned Drs. Shukrallah and Hassan. Well, Mr. Nassar takes pride in pointing out that their respective sons Drs. Karam and Ziad, both prominent physicians are, academically speaking, and like so many other doctors, his own grandchildren. It is this personal element, the so-called human touch that enriches the life of a teacher.

Here is to Mr. Tamer Nassar, may he have a long and active life, so he may discover among members of a future Medicine I class an academic great grandchild.

From "SCAN" Medical Alumni Newsletter - A Supplement of al-kulliyah
Spring 1987
Volume 5, Number 1
(AUB Medical Alumni)

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


© AUB Libraries, 2005

Last modified: Sat Oct 7 11:03:30 2006 BL