Campus & Community

Teacher of Arabic Wilson B. Bishai dies at 85

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Wilson B. Bishai, professor emeritus of Arabic for the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), died Aug. 1 from kidney failure at his home in Maryland. He was 85.

Born in Egypt, Bishai emigrated to the United States in 1951. He attended Maryland’s Washington Missionary College and Adventist Seminary, then earning his Ph.D. in Oriental studies in 1959 at Johns Hopkins University.

He taught at the National Security Agency and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies before moving to Boston. In 1966, Bishai came to Harvard, beginning his near 30-year career as a senior lecturer of Arabic.

Extremely well liked by his students, Bishai was a pioneer in the development of the Bishai Computer Dictionary of Literary Arabic, an educational software specializing in teaching and translating the Arabic language.

Former colleague William Graham, dean of the Harvard Divinity School (HDS), said, “Wilson Bishai introduced a generation of Harvard students to modern Arabic language study. His good humor and infectious enthusiasm for Arabic were irrepressible, and all who studied with him remember him with fondness as well as appreciation.”

He leaves his wife, Elizabeth; two sons, William and David, both of Baltimore, and a daughter, Linda of Washington, D.C. — all graduates of Harvard; brother Yousef of Grosse Point Farms, Mich.; and six grandchildren.

Services have been held.