Portland State remembers the Toulans

Written by | November 25, 2013

  • Nohad Toulan will be remembered as one of the founders of PSU's College of Urban and Public Affairs. ©PSU

    Nohad Toulan will be remembered as one of the founders of PSU's College of Urban and Public Affairs. ©PSU

On Nov. 19, Portland State held a memorial service for Nohad and Dirce Toulan in a nearly full Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom. The two perished in an automobile accident near Montevideo, Uruguay, on Oct. 28. Nohad was 81 and Dirce was 78. The service consisted of a series of short speeches on how their lives have affected both the city and people of Portland.

Dr. Nohad Toulan helped found the School of Urban Studies and Planning at PSU and worked as its dean for nearly 30 years. It was named after him in 2005. His wife, Dirce, had a master’s degree in city planning and was also a key figure at PSU, helping fund scholarships while giving input on her husband’s endeavors. Speakers throughout the service asserted that it was difficult to talk about about one of them without mentioning the other.

The service included speeches from colleagues, students and members of the community, sharing stories about the many different facets to the Toulans’ lives as leaders in the community. What follows are a selection of those reflections.

U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer, Ore.

The Congressman offered his thoughts in a video message.

“It’s hard to think of all the ways the Toulans have contributed to the evolution of our once-obscure continuing education center for returning veterans to the establishment of a vital, strong, thriving university with particular expertise in urban studies,” Blumenauer said. “Dr. Toulan was a renaissance man, a scholar, planner, academic leader, a force in the community for human rights, sound foreign policy and protecting the planet…We mourn the loss of this extraordinary couple, even as we celebrate their lives. Portland State University, the community, and the nation is a better place because of them.”

“Dirce herself was an accomplished professional,” Blumenauer continued. “They met when she was a Fulbright scholar. She didn’t just support Nohad throughout his career. She had a strong academic and professional background and was very influential and respected at the university. It is not an accident that hers is the name on the library for the College of Urban and Public Affairs.”

Omar Toulan, son

One of the Toulans’ two adult children, Omar spoke about his parents’ roles at PSU and in Portland.

“In his 28 years as dean, my father helped create a nationally recognized institution which has attracted students and faculty from all over the world,” Toulan said. “His personal legacy is intrinsically tied to the college. The same is true for our mother. While it may have been our father who was called the dean of deans, it was our mother who supported him and enabled him to have the public success he did. In addition, our mother was heavily involved in a variety of PSU initiatives, from fundraising for student scholarships to the [CUPA] library which now has her name on it.”

Thomas Hacker, architect

Many of the speeches were given by people who had professional relationships with the Toulans and helped them put their plans into action.

“Nohad was a man with a fundamental confidence in his perceptions of what is strong and what is lasting in the culture and the commerce of the city,” Hacker said. “He was rigorous, he was intellectually brilliant. But what distinguished him most to me was his ability to see the intrinsic beauty in the human order, and that kind of entanglement we have with urban life. He had an almost instinctual sense of how to guide that human order forward into the future in subtle and often amazingly transforming ways.

“He recognized that PSU’s greatest asset is being a vital part in one of the great urban environments in the world,” Hacker said. “He wanted PSU to grow as an active force in that city, not an inward-focused Park Blocks academy, but an outward force for the future and integration of the university with the immense human resource that this city offers.”

Professor Birol Yesilada

A professor of political science at PSU, Yesilada spoke about the inspirational effect the Toulans had even in regards to their personal life.

“Nohad and Dirce Toulan were true bridge-builders,” Yesilada said. “They accomplished this talk in their personal as well as public lives. They didn’t just talk the talk—a lot of people do that—they also walked the walk. They were two giants who walked this earth and bettered the lives of everyone they met and everything they touched. […] On a personal level, they showed us how a marriage between people who came from two different countries, who spoke two different languages and practiced two different religions could endure the challenges of this world and raise a beautiful and successful family. For nearly 50 years, Dirce and Nohad showed us how to make it work. Their devotion to each other was exemplary.”

Connie Ozawa, dean of the Toulan School

The memorial service concluded with a short speech from Connie Ozawa, summing up the event.

“If you’re like me, this service has led you to recall the special moments that you were lucky enough to have had with [the Toulans],” she said. “We will miss them dearly. But they are not gone. They live in the memories that we hold, and more importantly, in the commitment that they shared with us—a vision of tolerance, equity and justice, of service to others, of letting knowledge serve the city.”

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