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Allahverdi Farmanfarmaian ’52

Known to his friends as Verdi, Allahverdi was born a prince in Iran—a descendent of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Persia from 1785 to 1925. His father was governor of Tehran and Iran’s vice minister of education and pushed his sons to attend college in the United States. In 1948, Verdi started at a small Catholic college in New York, and then transferred to Stanford, a name he recognized from Iran. His younger brother, Tari Farmanfarmaian ’54, was accepted at Reed on the condition that he completed some summer courses. In 1950, Verdi visited to support his brother, fell in love with Reed and Oregon, and stayed. He was proud of his Reed education, saying that it taught him to think and broadened his intellect, giving him experiences outside of technical chemistry.

“I learned more out of class than I did in class,” he said. “I was knocked about and shaped by the ever-present dialectical argument and discourse, Socratic, spiritual, or Marxist. In the coffee shop, the commons, the dorms, or on the lawn, you could not open your mouth on any subject without being challenged. Many years later I came across the term ‘total immersion’ and was struck how aptly it described my learning environment at Reed.”

Verdi earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in biological sciences from Stanford, where his research focused on marine physiology. Following postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley, he was invited to teach and do research at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In 1961, he returned to Iran, where he taught at Shiraz Medical School. Unnerved by the corruption and ruthlessness of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s regime, he departed Iran in 1967. Verdi credited the intellectual confidence he gained at Reed with his ability to emotionally survive the reforms launched by the Shah to weaken the classes opposing his rule.

He was hired as a visiting professor at Princeton University and then spent 30 years at Rutgers University as a professor of physiology, retiring on the first day of the new millennium. During his academic career, he studied membrane physiology, authoring numerous peer-reviewed publications and receiving many prestigious grant awards for his research. Verdi took great pride in his role as mentor and teacher to undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers.

An intellectual who loved literature, poetry, and the arts, Verdi was an avid traveler, gentleman farmer, and naturalist who loved to mountain climb and canoe. He was a longtime patron of many causes, including open-space preservation, Native American youth programs, wildlife, and the arts. Devoted to birds, he kept his feeders filled with gourmet bird food, and his human friends could always rely on him for chocolate. Predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Dr. Parvin Saidi, he is survived by his daughters, Lara Farmanfarmaian Terry and Kimya Farmanfarmaian Harris.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2016

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