True-to-life bridge builders should be honored with a bridge named for them. What an appropriate way to honor Nohad and Dirce Toulan, who died tragically in Uruguay several weeks ago.
Oregon lost one of the greatest couples that made our community a better place for us all. Commissioner Nick Fish paid tribute to the two at their memorial service. "Let's name a bridge in their honor," he suggested, speaking eloquently about Dr. Toulan and Dirce Toulan, who were inseparable for more than 50 years.
The two met while both were students at the University of Pennsylvania - Dirce from Argentina and a devout Catholic, Nohad from Egypt and a devout Muslim. As they say, love has no boundaries. The two married and began their bridge building lives together. The Toulans respected each other’s faith and ethnic and cultural heritages: Dirce studied Arabic and Islam; Nohad tried learning Spanish. Though they went back to Egypt to begin their family, America beckoned them once more. Nohad took a job and began his teaching career at Columbia University in New York.
As fate would have it, in 1972 Portland State University successfully recruited Dr. Toulan to take the helm of a budding new program, the Department of Urban Studies. For the next three decades, Dr. Toulan almost single-handedly built the College of Urban and Public Affairs to become the premier center for urban and public affairs in the country and placed PSU and the College of Urban and Public Affairs on the global map. Dirce, too, was instrumental in the growth of College of Urban and Public Affairs, and for her efforts the library at the college is named Dirce Moroni Toulan Libray.
At the same time, Dirce and Nohad became immersed in their newly adopted home. Their children, Mariam and Omar, attended local public schools. Dirce volunteered in the children's schools and served in neighborhood associations, crossing cultural divides and raising awareness within the community of the children's multicultural and multiethnic heritage. The Toulans were a model family in the increasingly diverse community of Portland.
Dr. Toulan was one of the founders of the Muslim Education Trust, which currently is in the process of building a new community center for the growing Muslim and Arab-American families in the region. I was privileged to help in the groundbreaking and the ribbon-cutting ceremony this past summer alongside Dr. Toulan. There, he spoke of the bright future for the young Muslim men and women who will have the opportunity to learn about their faith and language and their individual culture. There are more than 36 cultural groups represented at the MET and Oregon Islamic Academy. Nohad marveled at the Portland’s progress in accepting and nurturing the growing diversity in the Metro region.
Dirce and Nohad Toulan in their respective ways taught us to bridge religious, cultural and ethnic divides - to become more understanding and accepting of our differences and to search out the common ground on which we can build our future. Yes, Dr. Toulan has been credited with transforming our city and the state through urban design and planning, but Dirce and Nohad also showed us how to live with each other in harmony and peace.
Dirce came to America to study architecture, but ended up marrying a world class urban designer and raising two wonderful children who are now citizens of the world -- one in Canada and the other in London. Nohad came to America as Muslim from Egypt and ended up marrying Dirce and helping Portland become a world class city and a national model for sustainability.
These two Oregonians began their lives 15,000 miles away from each other and came to Portland to pursue their dreams. They arrived in America as foreigners and they lost their lives on a country road in Uruguay. Now they are buried on hillside overlooking Portland, back home as Americans and Oregonians.
Let's honor their contribution as our true bridge builders by naming the new TriMet bridge in their bonor: the Dirce and Nohad Toulan Bridge. Sho Dozono, of Southwest Portland, is chairman of the Oregon League of Minority Voters.
Sho Dozono of Southwest Portland (pictured above) is chairman of Oregon League of Minority Voters.