To those who knew the work and reputation of Dr. Aziz Atiya, who died this weekend at age 90, he was a prolific, gifted writer and scholar of international stature. His research and writing created classic works in medieval and Middle East history.
Others will remember him best for his bold initiative in creating the University of Utah Middle East Center and an academic program comparable to any in the country.Still others - countless others throughout Europe and the Middle East as well as in this country - revere him as an inspirational, challenging teacher.
But those who knew him best honor him as well as a builder of bridges.
He bridged the Middle East and American worlds. He had deep roots in his native Egypt and annually visited there to study and renew ties. But he left no doubt about his love for his adopted country, and never tired of boasting that at the hour he was born on July 5 in Egypt, it was July 4 in the country he in which he came to claim citizenship. "My birthday and my country's birthday are the same," he proudly declared.
He bridged religious worlds. The world's foremost scholar on his own Coptic religion, he loved and was loved by officials of the LDS Church as well as of other churches. It was he who discovered in archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Book of Abraham papyrus and arranged for its transfer to LDS Church officials.
He bridged cultural and economic gaps. Born in humble conditions in a tiny Egyptian village, he dealt with rulers and presidents and developed a breadth and empathy that made him comfortable and gracious with those of every educational, cultural, and economic level.
The Coptic encyclopedia on which he was so tirelessly working almost to the day of his death will be a monument to his memory. So will his legacy of love for, and loyalty to, the people of this state he called home.