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Friend of Bangladesh Father Richard William Timm passes away at 97

  • Published at 05:35 am September 12th, 2020
Father Richard William Timm
Father Richard William Timm Courtesy

He was one of the founders and sixth principal of Notre Dame College

A lifelong true friend of Bangladesh, Father Richard William Timm CSC passed away at the age of 97 in the US.

He breathed his last on Friday afternoon (US local time) at the Holy Cross House in South Bend, Indiana, confirmed Akhila D Rozario, director of the Mirpur Agricultural Workshop and Training School (MAWTS) of Trust of Caritas, Bangladesh.

“I received the information on Father Timm’s demise this morning [Saturday]. He was suffering from complications of old age and had not been doing well for the last couple of days. I was his student in 1975 at Notre Dame, when he taught zoology,” said Akhila, who is also a former colleague of the deceased.

Father Timm was a member of the Sacred Heart Province. He lived and worked in Bangladesh for close to 66 years and was one of the pioneering figures in Bangladesh's education sector. 

A former superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Dhaka, he was also one of the founders of Notre Dame College and served as its sixth principal.

Notre Dame College Principal, Father Hemanto Rozario CSC, expressed grief at Father Timm’s death and prayed for the salvation of his departed soul.

The college also expressed grief over Father Timm’s death on its Facebook page.

Father Timm was an educator, zoologist, and active participant in social development work who came to Dhaka in October 1952. 

He joined Caritas as a planning officer, taking charge of wartime projects for devastated villages following the Liberation War in Bangladesh. 

In 1974, after starting the Justice and Peace Commission, he served as its executive secretary for 23 years. 

A great loss

Recalling memories of Father Timm, Akhila D Rozario said his death was an irreparable loss.

“He served as a role model in the post-Liberation War period in Bangladesh,” Akhila said.

To help rebuild the war ravaged country, Father Timm formed a platform of non-government organizations, he said. 

“He also worked tirelessly to enhance the capacity of young people so that they can contribute to the country,” said Akhila, who worked under the supervision of Father Timm between 2006 and 2011.

Dr Edward Pallab Rozario, manager (health) at Caritas Bangladesh, said it was an uphill task for Father Timm to work in Bangladesh for 66 years, despite being a US national.

“Out of his love for people, that he gained in war zones as a US army veteran, Father Timm started working for the people of Bangladesh on humanitarian grounds,” Dr Pallab added.

Recounting the last time he met Father Timm, the Caritas official said: “It was at a program in 2011. He asked me to work with an utmost humanitarian approach to win the hearts of the people.” 

Mistaken for a Pakistani trooper, attacked in 1971

“I was ambushed twice by freedom fighters. Fortunately, there were always some of my students among them. I was wearing US Army pants and I had a black beard, so I looked pretty much like a Pathan [from the northwest frontier provinces of India] from West Pakistan,” Father Timm said in a Barkley Centre interview in 2015. 

“In fact when I went to the government house to complain about the treatment of Hindus on Monpura Island, the Punjaabi major took me for a Pathan!” he was quoted as saying. 

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Early life and arrival in Dhaka

Richard William Timm was born in Michigan City, Indiana, USA, on March 2, 1923. His parents were Joseph and Josephine Otten - both Roman Catholics of German descent. 

Timm had three siblings - an older brother and two younger sisters.

He served the local church as an altar boy and attended St Mary's Grade School, before going on to St Mary's High School. 

In his final high school year, Timm clarified his religious ambitions. He considered the Jesuits, and won a four-year scholarship to a Jesuit university, before visiting Moreau (Holy Cross) Seminary at Notre Dame University where he was assured that he could study for a Bachelor of Science in biology. 

On September 9, 1940, Timm entered Moreau and graduated with great distinction in 1945, with a BA in Philosophy. In April that year, he embarked on four years of theological studies at Holy Cross College in Washington DC. 

After his ordination on June 8, 1949, Holy Cross assigned him to establish a department of science at St Gregory's, its newly opened college in Dhaka. In order to do so, he first had to acquire a master’s degree. 

Enrolling at Catholic University of America (also in Washington DC), he plunged into the study of biology and pursued a master’s degree and a PhD. Having completed his formal education, he arrived in Dhaka in late October, 1952. 

Role in spreading education

Timm worked in the education sector of Bangladesh from 1952 and became the principal of Notre Dame College for 1970-71. He was the founder of the science departments at Notre Dame College and a pioneer of club activities.

Bangladesh's friend, Rev. Fr. Richard William Timm, C.S.C. left us yesterday afternoon (Friday, September 11th) at Holy...

Posted by Notre Dame College, Dhaka on Friday, 11 September 2020

He was the founder of both Notre Dame Debating Club and Notre Dame Science Club, which were the first of their kind in Bangladesh.

The Textbook of College Biology by Timm served as a textbook for Bangladeshi schools for many years. This text was an extension of a book by A Bhuya, of Dhaka Government College, but not much of the original version was preserved in the extension. 

Timm also taught at Dhaka Medical College under a Fulbright Lectureship in Parasitology (1953-54), and continued his research on jute and rice nematode parasites at the Agricultural Research Institute, Tejgaon, under a grant from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Pakistan (1954-70). 

At the same time, he served as an external examiner in zoology for Dhaka University, and in parasitology for Bangladesh Agricultural University.

Awards and recognitions

Father Timm was given a medal and Parchment to Father at the Vatican embassy in Dhaka on September 29, 2009, in recognition of his contribution to education, charity, justice, and peace in Bangladesh.

Timm was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1987 for International Understanding.

In recognition of his action for development, Timm was honored with citizenship from three different governments.

Among the many varieties of nematodes he discovered, the marine nematode Timmia parva, was named after him.

In 1963, Timm was given a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for extensive study in Thailand and the Philippines on parasitic nematodes affecting commercial plants.

He attributed his productivity and output in the 1950s and 1960s (over 70 scientific papers) to the fact that he was the only nematologist in Bangladesh.

In 1968, Father Timm left East Pakistan to spend two years in the US before returning shortly before the War of Liberation in Bangladesh.

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