A special place in the rose garden
SYDNEY — Less than a week before Sirus Naraqi passed away, his medical colleagues at the University of Sydney held a well-attended symposium in his honor.
Delivering the opening address, Papua New Guinea heart specialist Professor Sir Isi Kevau described Professor Naraqi as a "special chapter in the history of medicine in Papua New Guinea."
That chapter is a story of training medical students and doctors, of effective research into prevalent diseases, and of major contributions to improving the country's health system.
"I thank God that we in Papua New Guinea were given the opportunity to cherish the knowledge and wisdom that this very special individual exuded in the 18 years he lived in the country -- he has a very special place in God's garden of roses," said Sir Isi, the first Papua New Guinean medical professor, who was trained by Professor Naraqi.
Professor Naraqi, 61, died on 18 August 2004 after a prolonged illness. More than 700 mourners of many religious, racial, and professional backgrounds attended his funeral.
Born in Iran in 1942, Sirus Naraqi demonstrated his caliber by placing first in university entrance examinations in Iran out of 80,000 students nationwide.
He completed his postgraduate medical training in the United States where he later practiced as a specialist in internal medicine. He was named "best attending physician" and "best teacher of the year" at the University of Illinois teaching hospital.
Because of his spiritual beliefs and his humanitarian nature, he then chose to devote his intellect and expert medical skills to some of the world's most materially disadvantaged people by working in Papua New Guinea from 1977-79 and 1983-98.
He spent much of his free time -- weekends and vacations -- visiting remote villages to provide treatment for those with little access to medical care.
His main role was combining practice as a specialist in internal medicine with his duties as professor of medicine at the University of Papua New Guinea.
His special attention to training local undergraduate and postgraduate students meant that by the time he moved to Australia in 1998, he left behind so many highly competent and trained doctors and specialists that expatriate doctors were no longer so crucially in demand.
In 1999, on the recommendation of the government of Papua New Guinea, Queen Elizabeth awarded him the high honor of Commander of the British Empire (CBE).
"Sirus was a shining example of the committed and dedicated pioneers who came from afar to heal and educate," said a former prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan.
"He developed friendships with our people, as well as built lasting institutions and learning for future generations of Papua New Guineans," Sir Julius said.
As professor of medicine and associate dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney's western clinical school, Professor Naraqi co-established a research foundation and quickly demonstrated his remarkable abilities as a teacher.
"He is... a well-loved academic among medical students who have respected his dedication to his profession and his generosity of spirit in the training and mentoring of professionals," read a tribute published at last month's symposium that also mentioned his achievement in publishing more than 100 scientific and medical papers.
A deeply knowledgeable, eloquent and highly capable Baha'i, Sirus Naraqi served as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Australasia since 1985, providing advice and encouragement to the Spiritual Assemblies and believers as he traveled widely in that region.
"We feel intensely privileged to have known him and served with him," said Jalal Mills, a member of the Continental Board based in Papua New Guinea.
Dr. Mills said Sirus Naraqi firmly believed that people even in the most humble of circumstances could understand profound concepts and live as spiritual people.
"He had the ability to see the potential and to patiently and lovingly nurture this potential," he said.
Another of his Baha'i colleagues, Stephen Hall, a member of the Continental Board, said he admired Professor Naraqi's highly developed intuitive wisdom, his ability in an instant to go to the core of a matter and hone in on the relevant spiritual principles.
"Sirus never seemed rushed and he always had time for anyone who needed his guidance and advice," he said.
In a message of condolence, the Universal House of Justice said the devoted services to the Baha'i Faith by Dr. Sirus Naraqi will long be remembered.
Dr. Naraqi played a "pre-eminent role in the propagation of the Cause to all parts of the country and the establishment of Baha'i institutions on a secure foundation," the message said.
"He was renowned for his commitment to encouraging and nurturing capable indigenous believers to take responsibility for the work of the Cause and for the love and kindness he showered on all members of the community," the message said.
The Universal House of Justice advised the National Spiritual Assemblies of Australia and Papua New Guinea to hold memorial gatherings in his honor and asked that memorial meetings be held in the Baha'i Houses of Worship in Australia and Samoa.
Sirus Naraqi is survived by his wife, Mitra, four children, and a grandson.