Love for all Creatures, Great and Small
Reza not only had a close family and many friends whom he loved dearly, but he was also a lover of animals, first of his childhood dog in Tehran, Black. While graduate students at UCLA, Reza and I got a coal-black cocker-poodle puppy, so small she could sit in the palm of one’s hand. Reza said she looked like a ‘deev’ (devil), and so we gave her the ancient Persian form of the name (which has a good meaning), Daivah. As she grew into a rambunctious yet lady-like and loving fluffy dog, all his friends fell in love with Daivah Khanoum too, even old Persian ladies who were afraid of her and had to sit behind barricades when they came to visit our home. She always came along to the beach and on hikes in the mountains, and on campus when Reza awoke her from her nap in the car between classes and at lunch, she soon became the queen of the dogs whom other owners brought with them to play in the sculpture garden. A very formal Hungarian professor of Turkish fell to his knees when he saw Daivah, swearing that she was really a true Hungarian Puli. Once when she went for a winter swim while we were walking on the Santa Monica beach and came out of the water looking for a blanket to roll on to dry off, she spotted a couple wrapped in a blanket near the water’s edge, and dove in between them, the couple quickly separated by the wet dog, though when she started to run towards him after drying off, Reza headed in the other direction and pretended she wasn’t his til he was out of their sight. When Reza received a fellowship to do dissertation research on Qajar history in Iran, he decided to take her along, and his beloved mother, who considered dogs to be ‘narges’ (religiously unclean), agreed to Daivah for the sake of her dear son. Reza went to receive Daivah at the airport in Tehran, where he met a chic-o-pic puffed up Iranian acquaintance of his, who said archly he was flying off to Italy for the weekend, and asked what Reza was doing at the airport. Reza said simply, I’m here to pick up my dog, who is arriving from America, leaving his friend deflated and speechless. All of Reza’s family in Iran came to love Daivah Khamoum too, especially his nephew Amir, who still keeps a photograph of Daivah sitting by the relief of an Egyptian deity at Pasargadae on his table in Utah. In recent years, Reza made up names and stories for all the cats who lived nearby in Iffley, and for a while adopted a neighbor’s cat much beloved by Shahrzad into his own home.
Sent by Cynthia on 15/01/2018
Reza – A Copper Beech, Sum of Wisdom
In Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Travels, Goethe’s account of the intellectual and spiritual growth of a young man during widespread travels over many years, the poet wrote:
We see the flowers fade and the leaves fall
but we also see fruits ripen and new buds shoot forth.
Life belongs to the living,
and the one who lives must be prepared for change.
Reza was akin to a magnificent tree who sheltered all his friends and family within his wide embrace, like the 200-year-old copper beech which he loved in the Wadham College gardens, one of whose sons is now flourishing in his own garden in Iffley. He was a lively sapling in Tehran, reaching for sun and knowledge, nurtured by a loving and close family, inspired by a powerful and scholarly father. Although Reza’s family was prominent in Iran, when he started his own life as a university student at Columbia, their circumstances were difficult, and he learned to make his own way in the world and rely on himself. As he passed through his graduate studies at Northwestern and UCLA, taught at the University of Washington, and crowned his career as the Soudavar chair at Oxford, he grew and developed into a strong person with a brilliant wide-ranging and deeply knowledgeable intellect and a hugely loyal and loving heart. He met many misfortunes along the way, but always managed to triumph, and to care and provide for all those he loved most, and to keep his father’s legacy. He was loyal and generous with his friends, but did not suffer fools gladly. And most of all he faced life with optimism and joy, spreading laughter and happiness to all around him. His great leaves have sadly fallen to the ground to nourish the roots of the trees whose branches bear the younger fruits now ripening and send forth the new buds, his gift to the generations of his near and dear to come. All who were privileged to know him and share some of his life and love will never forget him, but try to live our lives to the fullest as he would want, and remember him in our hearts. In the rustling of the leaves we will always hear his laughter.
These trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I'll character
(Shakespeare, As You Like It)
Sent by Cynthia on 15/01/2018
Our two years at AUS were full of laughs and joyful camaraderie. Though brilliant, he was also down to earth – never taking himself too seriously. I have never had so much fun at the workplace. Reza was a prankster who had nicknames for all his coworkers, including me. He once replaced my office nameplate with that of the men’s restroom. I knew exactly who had done it, but no one else suspected the distinguished visiting professor from Oxford University. Yes, Reza knew how to have fun, but he was serious about his work and serious about his students. Students loved his classes. At his AUS farewell dinner, one student commented that Dr. Sheikholeslami was the only professor he had known who in lecturing on important historical events would list the exact time down to the last second.
What I will remember most is how much he cared for his family and friends. Once he let you in, he laid everything bare and his friends became your friends. I have not met many of the people writing tributes, but I feel as though I know all of you. You were the people Reza cared about and he talked about you often with warmth and love.
I met Reza when I was fresh out of graduate school, he was, at the beginning, the mentor I wish I had had when I was in graduate school. At the end of the two years, he had become my best friend. I miss him dearly.
Sent by Neema on 13/01/2018