Victor Nassar, doctor, community leader, dies at 85

Displaced by war, he came to Atlanta
Dr. Victor Nassar trained a generation of Atlanta doctors. He was born in what was then Palestine in 1937 and was twice displaced by war before moving permanently to Georgia.

Credit: courtesy of family

Credit: courtesy of family

Dr. Victor Nassar trained a generation of Atlanta doctors. He was born in what was then Palestine in 1937 and was twice displaced by war before moving permanently to Georgia.

War in the Mideast, or the imminent threat thereof, forced Victor Nassar and his family to hastily relocate two times decades apart.

One of those moves came at gunpoint.

Those disruptions spun his life in dramatically different directions and accented a journey that took him from a Palestinian childhood to being an influential Atlanta pathologist and community leader who instructed and mentored many of the city’s doctors.

Family and colleagues say despite the forced changes, Nassar never succumbed to bitterness. Instead he pursued a low-key, kind and persistent approach in all facets of his life — in which service was a defining characteristic.

“Victor’s manner wasn’t like, go do A, B, C and D,” said Angela Khoury, a longtime friend. “It was more like ‘You already have a friend here, and you’ll have many more.’”

Khoury and her husband H. Jean, a Lebanese couple, bonded quickly with Nassar after the couple took a 2004 trip to scout a move to Atlanta. H. Jean had a job offer at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. They met Nassar at a fundraising dinner for the American University of Beirut Atlanta alumni chapter.

“He kind of pushed us in his own gentle manner to make the decision,” she remembered. “Victor was genuine and straight from the heart. My husband and in-laws all said this was a sure sign we needed to move to Atlanta.”

Victor Nassar, 85, died on April 15 due to complications of a head injury and Parkinson’s. He is survived by sons Paul and Tim, daughter-in law Carly and brothers Theodore and Constantine. Funeral services were held April 18.

Born in Nazareth in what was then Palestine in 1937, he was a teen when Zionist insurgents burst into their home in 1948, pointing weapons and demanding the family immediately leave the country. The clan — caught up in the wars that led to Israel’s establishment — quickly piled into two cars and fled to Lebanon with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Nassar developed an interest in medicine at his new home, but his family had little money. The American University of Beirut Medical School stepped in with a full scholarship. After his 1963 graduation, the newly minted doctor came to Atlanta for a residency at Emory, followed by further pathology education at Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities. In 1970, he and his wife Jane Bond Brannon, who he met in the U.S., returned to Lebanon and he took a teaching job at AUB.

The move didn’t stick.

Nassar saw disturbing signs of imminent civil war, including the attempted kidnapping of a relative and the assassination of a prominent politician. The Nassars decamped for the U.S.

“My family has said we were one of the last planes to make it out of the airport before it was bombed,” said Tim Nassar.

Back in Atlanta, Nassar became a professor of pathology and department chair at Emory’s School of Medicine.

One of his many students was Dr. Omar Lattouf, an Atlanta surgeon who studied under Nassar in the 1970s while working toward his doctorate.

“He would stimulate a conversation, encourage a discussion, encourage us to speak out,” Lattouf said. “He was a warm and caring person, connecting on a personal level.” That same collaborative approach came into play as he welcomed a number of doctors and other medical professionals arriving from Lebanon, helping them to adjust to life in Atlanta, providing guidance on neighborhoods, schools and churches and introducing them to his network of friends and colleagues.

“Anything he could do for you, that was Victor,” said Octavia Nasr, a former CNN International anchor and friend. “He was ‘Tell me what you need and I’ll make it happen.’ "

Nassar’s skills, knowledge and ability to connect also manifested itself in wider circles.

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