We remember Tosun Terzioğlu: a good and kind man...

We remember Tosun Terzioğlu: a good and kind man...

Nesrin Balkan

Our university's Founding President Tosun Terzioğlu passed away on this day a year ago. Tosun Bey became the first President of Sabancı University in 1997, when the foundation was being laid. He held this office for 12 years. He played a leadership role and put great effort into creating the education system at Sabancı University, building the department-free and interdisciplinary structure and establishing the differences of Sabancı University, such as the declaration of academic freedoms.  

Him walking in unhurried, silent steps all around the campus was a common sight for the Sabancı community. His humble leadership, excellent listening skills, and finding the lighter side of even the most somber setting are what I remember first about him. I had the chance to work with him for 17 years and my job required me to be beside him in hundreds of interviews and statements. As he often said in his interviews, his great objective was to raise and develop students into free-thinking, inquisitive, questioning individuals who have the ability to stand on their own feet, and the Sabancı University system was shaped accordingly. He always said that curiosity, questions, education and learning were mutual, that professors could learn just as much from their students, and that confining minds to preconceptions and stereotypes would obstruct the advancement of humanity.

We all know and have seen how much Tosun Bey loved trees, flowers and plants, and how he liked to work with the soil. Since Tosun Bey was closely involved in the landscaping of the campus once the construction was completed in 1999, and decided which tree or shrub would be planted where, he knew almost all the species on campus by heart, all the way to their Latin names.  His love and labor becomes manifest in every tree, plant and flower on campus.    He held campus tours for new students and interested employees every year, talking about the campus flora and fauna. Since he had helped to transform an initial wasteland into the lush and verdant green with thousands of trees and shrubs today, he was happy and proud to do these tours.  

Tosun Bey discusses his love of earth, gardens and plants in the book ‘Bir Dünya İnsanı Tosun Terzioğlu’ edited by Deniz Kurtoğlu Eken and printed by Istanbul Bilgi University Press in November 2015: "...trees, shrubs, annual or perennial flowers... They are all like friends to man. Acquaintances, maybe. They know what happened to you. Some of what happens to them could be due to our mistakes."  Tosun Bey finds similarities between trees and institutions of education, and says, "Education institutions are like olive trees - you know they live long. They can even live without being cared for. In that case they don't bear much fruit and become more prone to disease, but well-maintained olive trees have great swaths of shade below them. Up top, they have smaller but very healthy branches. Branches that are covered in olives. That is because of what they call rejuvenation. A young shoot is allowed to grow on an old and strong trunk. A tree may be a century old, yet if it has been pruned and groomed correctly, it appears no less healthy than a twenty-year-old tree. Education institutions are like trees. Regardless of how well-built they are, they must always keep an eye out for the outside world, look carefully into themselves, and seek to do everything in new and better ways. If an education institution says 'I am now perfect and there is nothing more I can do', they will quickly fall from that position, perhaps in four or five years in our times. This is inevitable.  Good institutions learn from each and every student, and develop and improve accordingly."

The Sabancı University campus will soon have a “Tosun Terzioğlu Garden” where students, employees and the whole Sabancı University community will be able to take a stroll, sit beneath a shade tree and read, engage in conversation, or become absorbed in thoughts or dreams. And Tosun Bey will be with us all along. 

The hero of It's a Wonderful Life

Film fans will remember "It's a Wonderful Life." It is still shown in old movie channels.  The 1946 film directed by Frank Capra is about a businessman, played by James Stewart, and how the world would look like if he had never lived.  The businessman then realizes that he did a lot to change the world without ever realizing, and decides that he has indeed lived "a wonderful life." I have been thinking about this film ever since Tosun Bey departed this world, and I feel like Tosun Bey is that character. Had Tosun Terzioğlu never lived, what would the world look like?  How would all the people –friends, employees, colleagues, family, Sabancı University– he touched in one way or another fare, and what would happen to all those trees and flowers he planted? 

That's how life is; if people do good deeds during their time in this world and touch other people's lives, they live forever; their deeds live on and they are always remembered in goodness and kindness. Tosun Bey has left his impression on every part of the campus and will continue to be remembered: On the campus lawn, in the laughter of a student, in the smell of a flower, in the achievements of a graduate, in the cafeteria or halls or laboratories or the Performing Arts Center... 

Tosun Bey ends his foreword to the book Bir Dünya İnsanı Tosun Terzioğlu thus: "I have met people of various nations throughout the years. I tried to listen to everyone I met, to understand and learn from them. I'm not sure if I deserve to be called 'A Man of the World' but I can say that I've always striven to be a good man."

The good and kind Tosun Terzioğlu will be forever remembered with gratitude and respect for what he has brought to our lives.