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John Wortabet (1927-1908)

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Portrait of John Wortabet

(Service to AUB 1867-1882, 1885-1886)

Armenian physician, missionary, and educator, John Wortabet was born in 1827. His father died while he was young and Ms. Whiting, an American missionary, took care of him. He joined the American School in Beirut until he mastered English well. Then he studied Arabic under Sheikh Nassif el-Yaziji and mastered Hebrew, Greek, and Latin while studying theology. He was interested in medicine, so he studied under Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck before the establishment of the Syrian Protestant College School of Medicine. The Protestant missionaries sent Wortabet to Hasbaya, but he returned to Beirut after the incidents of 1860. He pursued his medical studies in New York and theology in Edinburgh. When the SPC established its medical program, he joined it as a professor in anatomy and physiology between 1866 and 1882.

In 1882, the “Darwin issue” compelled three out of the six faculty members of the School of Medicine to resign: namely Dr. John Wortabet, Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck and Dr. Edwin Lewis. This was a great blow to the college, but Dr. Wortabet agreed to continue teaching as a lecturer until the college employed new professors. From the time of his resignation in 1882 until his death in 1909, he worked as a private physician in Zeituneh Street, Beirut, chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Lebanon Hospital for Mental Diseases and was ready to help in teaching at the college when the need arose.

In addition to his work at SPC, Dr. Wortabet wrote an Arabic version of Gray's Anatomy and other books, including an Arabic-English dictionary, books on public health, physiology, Arabic books for reading, and more than thirty articles on cholera, typhoid, plague, and leprosy[13].

He received several awards from the Prussian Hospital and the Ottoman Government for his outstanding service during the cholera epidemic in 1875, and for his service to medical education. He died on November 21, 1908, and was buried in the Anglo-American Cemetery in Beirut.

[13] Dr. Yuhanna Wortabet.  Al Muqtataf, (1905), v. 30 no. 6, (422).