Article by Magda Danish
In a serene setting at the heart of Stanford University campus stands the house of Dr. Tag Eldin Mansour, Dean of the Egyptian American community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his wife of 54 years Dr. Joan MacKinnon Mansour. I have known of them since my arrival in California in the early nineties and have seen them regularly at most if not all EAS events. They would always arrive together “on time”, sit and chat with any group sharing their table, greet some old familiar faces, and then quietly leave when conversations subside and loud Arabic music becomes the focus of the evening.
Their determination to keep up the connection with the homeland through EAS gatherings when many of their old friends were no longer around always fascinated me. But to Tag and Joan, Egypt has always been a second home, and a big part of their life, so it was only natural that they seek the connection and keep it going. Their house is indeed a testimony to their bi-cultural background with a multitude of Egyptian artifacts, Arabic typography and David Roberts’ lithographs alongside large oil paintings by Tag Mansour himself, depicting some of his most intimate memories of Egypt’s landscape.
Born in Belkas, Dakahlya in 1924, Tag Eldin Mansour graduated from Cairo University with a Veterinary Degree in 1946. Encouraged by an English professor to pursue advanced studies, he traveled to the UK and obtained a second degree in Pharmacology from the University of Birmingham.
Back in Egypt by 1949, Tag was offered a job at Cairo University and when he showed more interest in field research, he was eventually sent out to vaccinate cows in rural Egypt! With no lab facilities available to quench his thirst for research work, he volunteered at the US Naval Research Center in Cairo and applied for a Fulbright fellowship. Finally, in 1951 he was assigned to Howard University in Washington DC where, for one year, he dedicated his research to the study of Schistosoma mansoni aka Bilharzia.
By some administrative mistake Tag was awarded an immigrant visa to the US instead of a student’s visa! This allowed him to live and move freely within the country. In 1952, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio to join the team of Dr. Ernest Bueding at Case Western Reserve University, a leader among independent research universities in the US. During his time in Cleveland, Tag befriended Joan MacKinnon, a lab colleague also working in Dr. Bueding’s team.
Still, like so many of us before and after him, driven by nostalgia and a persisting sense of duty towards his home country, Tag decided to return to Egypt in 1954. Cairo University was temporarily closed due to political and military conflict between Nasser’s and Naguib’s supporters over the country’s leadership. A few months in Cairo with no work and the news that Dr. Bueding had moved to New Orleans to continue his research were enough reasons for Tag to move back to the US, this time settling in New Orleans.
Joan MacKinnon had accompanied Dr. Bueding to New Orleans to help him settle with the intent to later return to Cleveland. But once Tag was back in the picture, she decided to stay. They were married in 1955 in Joan’s home in Cleveland and later were blessed with two daughters and one son: Suzanne, Jeanne and Dean.
By the early sixties, Tag was independent and able to secure his own research money. When Dr. Bueding decided to take his research to John Hopkins Hospital, Tag opted for Stanford University and moved his family to California.
In 1963, Dr. Tag Mansour was hired by UNICEF to write a proposal for the Egyptian Ministry of Health on ways to treat and attempt to eradicate Schistosoma mansoni, which he did. Several years later when he asked some official about what happened to his proposal, Dr. Mansour was told that it was preciously locked in a safe!!
Now chair emeritus of Pharmacology at Stanford University, Tag Mansour was named the first Baxter professor of the Donald and Delia Baxter Foundation in 1972. He contributed to the founding of the school of Medicine of the University of Aleppo in Syria in 1970 and the University of Kuwait in 1977. His publications span over two decades and his book: “Chemotherapeutic Targets in Parasites” which was published in 2002 offers a comprehensive discussion of old and new drugs as treatments for parasites.
It’s been an honor to chat with a great man such as Dr. Mansour and while bidding him and Joan goodbye, I couldn’t help but smile at this random thought: Had his proposal to the Egyptian Ministry of Health been implemented back in 1963, would Abdel Halim Hafez* still be with us today?!
*Abdel Halim Hafez aka the Dark Nightingale (1929-1977) is one of the four most popular singers in the Arab World. He contracted Bilharzia at the age of 11 and was periodically and painfully afflicted by it. He died from complications of the disease while undergoing treatment at King’s College Hospital in London. (source: wikipedia)