SHARJAH // Tributes have poured in for American University of Sharjah professor Richard Gassan, who died in a road accident on Monday evening while cycling with a friend.
Mr Gassan, 56, an associate professor of history, was riding with former South African cricketer Desmond Daniel when they were hit and killed by a car.
The American, who rode his bike to work every day, is believed to have died at the scene. Mr Daniel, 72, was a light-steel framing specialist.
“He was a great colleague, a really elegant human being with a great sense of humour,” said Vernon Pedersen, head of the international studies department.
“Dr Richard was always such a cheerful person who had a positive energy around him and always smiling,” said Palestinian Joulia Ewaida, 22, an international studies senior.
Mr Gassan began at AUS in 2005. He was described as a valued colleague with a real dedication to his students, many of whom held an impromptu vigil yesterday.
Shahad Qamhiya, from Jordan, said Dr Gassan was always laughing and down to earth with his students.
“Dr Richard was a kind professor and you would learn a lot in his classes,” said the international studies student, 21. “I learnt the most from the classes I took with him. You would enjoy them so much, he made learning so easy for you.”
Ahmad El Haj, 21, an accounting student from Lebanon, said Dr Gassan’s history classes were the most interesting he had ever taken.
“He didn’t take study seriously, he took it as a way of learning and made it so easy,” Mr El Haj said. “He also wasn’t strict at all, just in deadline.
“I learnt many things from him. He improved my writing and reading skills as well as my critical thinking. He didn’t teach us just to read and memorise as machines.”
Mr Gassan is survived by his mother, Martha Oehler, and his elder brother Larry.
The university’s chancellor, Dr Bjorn Kjerfve, said the professor was “an admired colleague and member of the AUS community”.
“Richard will be fondly remembered for his dedication and commitment toward his students and his pleasant disposition,” said Dr Kjerfve. “Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and President of AUS, personally called me to convey his condolences to the AUS community and to Richard’s family on this irreparable loss.”
Flor Santos Khattab, an administrative assistant in the international studies department, said she was very close to Dr Gassan and his death was a huge shock to all.
“It is really a big, big loss and tomorrow his class and I are expecting him to come,” Ms Khattab said. “He was one of the coolest professors here.
“Even when we had pressure at work he would break the ice, just to make everyone smile or laugh, and if there was any problem he tried to make it cool.
“He was the first one to submit any kind of document I requested. He never failed, even when travelling. Although he was strict in class, he was loved by students.
“One day, because I wasn’t feeling well, he was a little upset with me and told me, ‘Go home Flor, and take a rest’. It was care, love and support, every time.
“When I had so much work here, he would come and say, ‘Oh Flor, let’s talk, you have to take a break’.”
Sharjah Police would not give details about the driver involved in the accident.