In Memoriam: John Damis

2 September 2009

From the Oregonian
John Damis, 68
06/16/1940 – 06/10/2009

Middle East scholar and professor, world traveler, athlete, beloved husband and father, John Damis passed away on June 10, 2009, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Growing up in a loving Greek family in Northeast Portland, John graduated from Grant High School, where he was valedictorian, class president and an outstanding athlete, earning eight varsity letters in three sports.

He was named outstanding running back in the 1958 Shrine All-Star game and was inducted into the Portland Interscholastic League Hall of Fame in 2007.

Entering Harvard College in 1958, John excelled academically and athletically.

He was named to the All-Ivy League freshman football team and played three years of varsity football, as well as rugby and basketball.

He graduated magna cum laude in history in 1962. He then earned a Master of Arts in Middle East studies at Harvard, followed by an M.A., Master of Arts in law and diplomacy, and Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (administered jointly by Harvard and Tufts University).

He received a Fulbright fellowship for study in Morocco in 1964; this was the first of three Fulbright awards to Morocco and the beginning of a love affair with that country and many deep and lasting friendships.

John began his career in the political science department of Portland State University in 1972, teaching politics of the Middle East and North Africa, along with international politics and American foreign policy.

From 1975 to 1977, he served as a U.S. State Department policy analyst for the Middle East. Among his duties were preparation of daily briefings for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Considered one of the world’s foremost experts on North African politics, particularly the long-running dispute over the Western Sahara, John was the author of four books and monographs and over 100 scholarly articles.

He was invited to consult with the United Nations on the referendum process in the Sahara and spent several summers directing a UN team in El Aiyoun, Morocco.

He was a visiting professor at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Washington and Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco and served as chair of Portland State’s political science department. In 1994, he received the Bradford Price Millar Award for faculty excellence.

John became director of Portland State’s Middle East Studies Center in 2004.

As center director, he traveled widely in the Middle East and organized PSU alumni gatherings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai; he added faculty positions and dramatically increased fund-raising.

In 2000, John was decorated by King Mohammed VI of Morocco with the Medal of Honor (Alawite Wissam) and appointed Commander of the Alawite Order, the Kingdom’s highest honor.

John served on the board of directors of the American Institute for Magreb Studies and the Tangier American Legation Museum Society and was an advisory editor for a number of scholarly journals, including “The Middle East Journal,” “The Magreb Review,” and “Mediterranean Politics.”

He was a great lover of travel, opera, sports, and Moroccan cuisine, but his greatest pleasure was spending time with his family.

He is survived by his wife, Maria Wulff; children, Gregory and Alexa Damis-Wulff; brother, James Damis; sister, Virginia Demos; and nine beloved nieces and nephews.

His sister, Irene Papan, predeceased him. A memorial celebration will be held at 4 p.m. Monday, June 22, 2009, in Hoffman Hall on the Portland State University campus, 1833 S.W. 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97201 (near 12th Avenue).

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests remembrances to the Portland State University Foundation for the John Damis Middle East Scholarship Fund, PSU, P.O. Box 751, Portland, OR 97201.

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