In Memoriam

Nohad and Dirce Toulan

(by Birol Yesilada)

Oregon lost one of the greatest couples that made our community a better place for us all. Nohad and Dirce Toulan were bridge builders. They accomplished this through their personal and public lives. Dirce and Nohad did not just talk the talk – 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. Together, they were accomplished educators, architects, and urban planners who had a passion for history, culture, and the arts.

Through their personal lives, they showed us how a marriage of two individuals who came from two different countries, spoke different languages, and practiced 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. And they were true to their friends. As a friend of the Toulans, you never questioned their loyalty. Sue and I always looked upon Dirce and Nohad as an example and referred to them when we discussed challenges of making an interfaith marriage work when we talked about it with our children and friends. Their decision to leave New York and Columbia University to come to Portland State in 1972 is an example of devotion to one’s family.

Nohad's mark is everywhere whether it is found in the Mecca, Cairo, or Portland. But Dirce was always by his side always encouraging him to pursue his dreams. He was one of Oregon’s most influential Muslim and Arab leaders. This came to him naturally as he had been one since his school days in Penn. When he was president of the Muslim Students’ Association during the early 1960s and was told by the conference hotel in Atlanta that they could not have Black students stay there, he responded by informing the hotel management that Islam did not discriminate against individuals based on their color and promptly cancelled the conference and moved it somewhere else.

Nohad and Dirce worked very hard to bring about a better understanding of our religions in Oregon. They championed basic shared universal values of religions long before such ecumenism was popular. He was particularly concerned about the impact of 9/11 on our society – how negative images could tear part our social fabric. So, he worked hard to build bridges even more. Nohad Toulan was a founding member of:

  • The Council of Arab and Muslim Organizations of Oregon and SW Washington.

  • Institute of Christian-Muslim Understanding, ICMU.

  • Arab, Jewish and Muslim Dialogue.

  • Arab and Muslim Portland Police Advisory Council (AMPAC), AND

  • The Muslim Educational Trust where his vision defined its road map of success.

The Toulan's worked very hard to build bridges between the faith communities in Portland. As one close friend said “some people's memory never dies because their moral and political imaginations are naturally rooted in the living memory they leave behind.” This is how Sue and I will remember Dirce and Nohad. Our deepest sympathies go to their children Mariam and Omar and to their relatives. May God help us endure their loss and may they rest in eternal peace.