It’s a long way from the high plains of Punjab in Northwest India to Mississippi and North Carolina, one might say worlds apart in miles as well as cultures and customs. Born in Patiala, Punjab, India, Avtar Singh’s keen intellectual curiosity and pursuit of a PhD degree in Sociology brought him to the United States in 1963. In India, he attended private schools and finished high school at the age of 13. He was fluent in 5 languages: Punjabi, Hindi, Farsi (Persian), Urdu, and English. As an undergraduate, Dr. Singh earned degrees in languages and economics with honors in English. He earned a Gold Medal for highest performance in M.A. in Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh, a record that still stands today. He earned a Merit Scholarship for PhD work in Sociology at Panjab University, Chandigarh and was teaching as a graduate fellow when the President of the Rural Sociological Society of America, Harold Kaufman, came to India as a Fulbright Scholar. The two shared common interests in rural community development and Kaufman offered him a PhD fellowship at Mississippi State University. Leaving his wife, Harjeet, and two young children behind at a time when very few left India to go to the US, his keen intellectual curiosity led him to America and the family joined him in 1967. He served on the faculty at Mississippi State from 1967 to 1970 when he joined the faculty in the Department of Sociology at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. He served on the faculty at ECU for 35 years until his retirement in 2005.
Professor Singh had an illustrious career and authored 3 books and many research articles in community structure and organization, rural agricultural development, and later in his career developed an interest in health services utilization, euthanasia, and race / gender inequality. In 1978, he received the Keimer Foundation award for outstanding achievement in promoting international understanding for his work in coordinating ECU’s Asian Studies program, and chairing the International studies program. He will be remembered by his colleagues at ECU and the many undergraduate and graduate students who loved his classes and whom he mentored and inspired. A few notable quotes from his colleagues and students: “generous, kind, warm, and knowledgeable about many subjects”, “I could always count on him to counsel me in difficult times”, “a brilliant and kind man of utmost integrity who always had a smile on his face and found humor in life”, “he was always a caring friend, a man with an encyclopedic stock of Urdu and Farsi poetry in his memory book, a brilliant scholar, and a thorough gentleman who was devoted to his family”, “ a vibrant thinker, a wonderful dedicated teacher who will always be remembered for his genuine kindness, who was open to his students and to all viewpoints”, “ we learned from him and he was truly an amazing inspiring professor” “ I wish that every student at East Carolina University could have him for one semester.”
He had a true passion for Urdu and Farsi Poetry starting in the 8th grade that continued throughout his lifetime.
But above all else, he was devoted to his family: his wife, Harjeet, whom he married on April 13, 1955, his two children, Harsharan and Gobind, and his grandchildren, Ranjit, Carsten, Sarah. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider making a donation to the Avtar Singh Scholarship at East Carolina University. Established in 2005 at the time of his retirement, this scholarship helps graduate students in the Department of Sociology. Contributions to the Avtar Singh Scholarship Fund can be made online or by check as follows:
1) Contributions can be made online at www.ecu.edu/give by selecting “I want to choose my own designation” and notating “Avtar Singh Scholarship Fund” in the Gift Instructions section.
2) Place in the memo section of your check: Avtar Singh Scholarship Fund. Mail check to: Avtar Singh Scholarship Fund, Office of Gift Records, East Carolina University, 2200 South Charles Blvd., Greenville, NC 27858.
Walker's Funeral Home of Chapel Hill is assisting the Singh family.