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Celebrating the enduring legacy of John Louis Fischer at AUB

July 2, 2021

“Of all the places where he worked,” explains Dr. Stephen Fischer, “AUB meant the most to my grandfather.” In fact, he continues, “AUB has been an important part of my family for three generations.” Stephen’s aunt, Dorothy, met her husband, Ted Briggs, who was a gym teacher at ACS, during the two years her family lived in Beirut. They have been happily married for more than 40 years. Stephen himself has been to Beirut – most recently in August 2020. Twenty years earlier, while a 4th year medical student, he did an elective rotation in dermatology at AUBMC with Professor Abdul-Ghani Kibbi. “I received top-notch instruction,” he remembers. “It was an amazing experience.”

Although John Louis Fischer (1923-2017) spent only two years as dean of AUB’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (1978-80), that was not his plan when he arrived. “He expected to be at AUB for much longer,” says Stephen, “but left because of concerns for his family’s safety.” Fischer stayed in touch with many AUB colleagues and friends though until the end of his life. “I grew up hearing about these people,” says Stephen. Over the years, some of them – like Professor Fawwak Sleiman (BS ’67), who Fischer appointed as director of AREC in 1979, and Annie Kasbarian, who was his secretary during his brief tenure as FAFS dean and would later work for 11 AUB presidents before she retired in 2017, have become Stephen’s good friends as well.

Dr. John Louis Fischer lived an extraordinary life that took him from southwest Oklahoma to stints in Ethiopia, Turkey, Lebanon, and Swaziland. He also traveled to many other countries. Fischer was a scholar who was a member of the faculty at five different US universities and a widely respected expert in agriculture and development who consulted with USAID and the Minister of Agriculture in Swaziland. (See bio below.) He was also, remembers Stephen, “an honest man with a strong commitment to social justice.” Stephen has made several gifts to AUB, establishing the “Director Fawwak Sleiman – Dean John Fischer Award,” which commemorates in perpetuity the friendship and collaboration of former AREC Director Fawwak Slieman and his grandfather, former FAFS Dean John Fischer. Earlier this year, he made a gift to name the “Dean John Louis Fischer Seminar Room” at FAFS in perpetuity. “These gifts are a way for me to give back because of what AUB has done for my family over generations,” Stephen explains.

“We are deeply grateful to Dean Mohtar for his efforts and to Dr. Fischer for his philanthropy that celebrates the memory and contributions of Dean John Louis Fischer,” said FAFS Associate Dean Ammar Olabi. “Although Dean Fischer was a member of the faculty for only a brief time many years ago, he had a powerful impact on our university and is remembered to this day.”

John Louis Fischer

1923 – 2017

Dr. John Louis Fischer was born on a cattle ranch and wheat farm in Southwest Oklahoma in 1923 where, as a child, he rode a horse to a rural schoolhouse. Dr. Fischer attended Oklahoma State University where he met and married sociologist and life-long humanitarian Jeanne Moore, who would be his wife for 70 years.

Dr. Fischer earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin after serving in the European theater in World War II. An agricultural economist, Dr. Fischer served on the faculty of many universities in the United States (Tennessee, Michigan, Nevada, Montana, and Arizona).  Dr. Fischer served as a science advisor to the US Department of Agriculture and he consulted for United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.  Dr. Fischer served on committees for the US Department of Labor, Health, Education and Welfare; and he served on President Lyndon Johnson’s Council of Economic Advisors, contributing to the President’s “Great Society” agenda, anti-poverty programs.  After serving as Department Head of Economics and Sociology at Montana State University, 1958 – 1965, Dr. Fischer led United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agricultural Development Mission in Ethiopia, 1966 – 1969.  Dr. Fischer laid the foundation for a consortium of western universities for international development projects in 1970 while serving on the faculty of the University of Arizona.  In 1971 Dr. Fischer served as the US Coordinator of Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) Agricultural Planning, leading seminars in Tehran, Iran, and Islamabad, Pakistan.  Dr. Fischer served as Chief of Party and Senior Agricultural Economist for USAID based in Ankara, Turkey, 1972 – 1974.  In 1977 Dr. Fischer authored US State Department’s “Africa Bureau Agricultural Development Strategy” with policy guidelines for increased food production and water security.  And Dr. Fischer served as Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut from 1978 through 1980. Dr. Fischer ended his career after serving as an advisor to the Minister of Agriculture in Swaziland, during the 1980s in southern Africa. Dr. Fischer believed that family is paramount, and he passed that belief down through the generations.