Dr. Syed Ataur Rahim died Friday, October 2, 2020, at his home in El Cerrito, California, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was just shy of his 90th birthday.
A respected scholar and world citizen, Dr. Rahim was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, to parents Syed Abdur Rahim and Mirza Sharifunessa Khatun. He received his B.S and M.S. in statistics from Dhaka University, where he was active in the Bangla language movement. In 1963, he married his wife Majeda, and a few years later took her and their young son across the ocean to East Lansing, Michigan, where he pursued his graduate studies. He earned a Ph.D in Communications from Michigan State University in 1968.
From 1963 to 1971, Dr. Rahim directed research at the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) in Comilla. He was chief of the Rural Development Section at the Bangladesh Planning Commission and participated in the formulation of that country’s first five-year plan. His years in rural Comilla were happy ones.
In 1974, he emigrated to Honolulu, Hawai’i and joined the East-West Center at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, as a researcher in cultural communications, analyzing how patterns of cultural and organizational communication within and between societies facilitate or inhibit better relationships. This work involved collaboration with government and academic institutions of renown around the world, as well as in Hawai’i itself. One of his most memorable research trips was an NEH-funded, week-long stay on a Native Hawaiian homestead, where he learned in intimate detail about the cultural practices of his adopted home. Just prior to his retirement, he was invited to the Clinton White House to receive a national award.
In Honolulu, Dr. Rahim’s home was open to all, and everyone was welcome at his table. His family frequently hosted international students, professors, and university fellows, as well as friends and relatives near and distant. An amateur photographer with a Minolta camera, he loved to take his family on outings around O’ahu to places of natural beauty, and fostered in his children a deep appreciation for natural wonders and the world’s cultures.
In 2000, he and his wife moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for a lively retirement full of parties with local Bengali friends and his two daughters and their families. His retirement years included road trips all over the West, as well as trips to visit relatives in Bangladesh, the UK, Canada, and other states. Through all his world travels, the place he longed for most in his heart was the abundant rivers and fertile deltas of his country of birth.
Dr. Rahim was often described as a Renaissance man by those who knew him well. His home was filled with evidence of his avid woodworking, from functional shelves to artistic sculptures, and with books on topics ranging from poetry to genetics. Whether he was composing music on the computer, fishing, or tending his gardens abundant with lau, sheem, chile peppers, and herbs, he was rarely found sitting still and made the most of every moment in life.
He is survived by his wife, Majeda Rahim; his three children, Shahed, Nipa, and Shimul Rahim; daughter-in-law Seina Rahim; son-in-laws Brian Roberts and Joao Carlos Lopes; three grandchildren, Naima, Brian, and Ravi; and his siblings Syed Nurur Rahim, Syeda Saleha (Panna) Matin, and Syeda Sahifa (Chuni) Choudhury.