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In memoriam: VCUarts Qatar founding director Paul Petrie

Paul Petrie talking to two people

The VCUarts community is saddened by the passing of Paul Petrie, founding director of the Shaqab College of Design Arts in Doha, Qatar—now known as VCUarts Qatar—on May 2, 2020. Petrie also served as the former department chair of Interior Design in Richmond. His leadership at the School of the Arts, both at home and abroad, established a global standard of education that has touched the lives of thousands of students.

“Paul Petrie was deeply admired as an educator and administrator by all at VCUarts and in Doha at Shaqab College of Design Arts and VCUarts Qatar,” said Nancy Scott, interim dean of VCUarts. “He possessed a calming presence while working through many important projects of international significance. Paul’s imprint at both campuses will always be remembered.”

Petrie first came to VCUarts in 1984 when he accepted a position as professor and chair of VCUarts’ interior design program. He later served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at VCUarts from 1995-97. In 1998, he became the founding director of the university’s new campus in Education City, Doha, and continued to steer VCUarts Qatar in its early years as an associate dean, professor and area head of their interior design program. During his first year in Doha, he worked with the architect to design the campus’ new building—the first in Education City.

He was awarded the professor emeritus status by VCUarts in 2005. He also received the VCUarts Award of Excellence in 2002 and in 2005, and was awarded the VCU Presidential Medallion for his ongoing contributions to VCUarts.

“Paul Petrie was a marvelous colleague, compassionate teacher, and professional partner who helped shape VCUarts into a national powerhouse of the arts and design,” said Richard Toscan, VCUarts dean emeritus. “His legacy as founding director of our design school in Qatar was opening the world of design education and careers to hundreds of women in the Arab world and through the success of VCUQatar, impacting the lives of thousands of arts students and faculty on the Richmond campus.”


In 2016, VCUarts Qatar founding director Paul Petrie joined Christina Lindholm, former dean of VCUarts Qatar, for a StoryCorps.me interview where they recalled the history of the school. VCUarts was the first American university to establish a campus in Education City, and has since been joined by Carnegie Mellon and Texas A&M, among others.


Petrie received his BID degree in interior design (University Gold Medal) from the University of Manitoba in Canada, and his MFA degree in interior design from Syracuse University in New York. Beginning in 1967, he practiced as a professional designer with several firms in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. From 1964-84, he taught at the University of Manitoba, and was tenured there.

Across his long career, Petrie served as a visiting professor at Suzhou University in China, and received grants from VCUarts, the University of Manitoba and the University of Oregon.

Petrie was a strong supporter of high-quality interior design education, and was an active member of the Interior Design Educators Council from 1975-98. During this time, he served as IDEC Annual Conference Committee, Banff, CN (1977); Midwest Regional Chair (1982-84); Membership Services Director, Annual Conference Co-Chair, Atlanta (1987); IDEC Representative to the Committee for Certified Virginia Interior Designers Board (1991-94); Program Chair, South Regional Conference, Atlanta (1992); President’s Restructuring Task Force (1995), and IDEC President (1998). He was awarded Fellow status in IDEC in 1992, and in 1996, he received an IDEC Presidential Citation.

Petrie was also active in the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER, now CIDA) where he served on the Board of Visitors, Accreditation Committee, and as the IDEC Representative to the FIDER Board of Trustees (1988-90). He participated in the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) through his service as Virginia Chapter NCIDQ Chair (1990-97; now CIDQ) and Mid-Atlantic STEP Chair (1985-90). He was also active in the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and was awarded Fellow status for his service.

“His ability to work with others in various capacities made him a lifelong friend to many of his colleagues and associates,” says Buie Harwood, professor emeritus, VCUarts Interior Design. “His many IDEC friends describe him as a thoughtful leader, wonderful person, good friend, gracious person, encouraging, dedicated, gentle man, one of the finest, with a quiet humor, and innovative spirit. He was a dear friend to many, including me, and a loving father to his children. He will be missed and remembered by all that knew him and by all that worked with him.”

Paul Petrie with other faculty at commencement