VCU faculty remember former colleague Paul Petrie, founding director of VCUarts Qatar

Petrie’s leadership established a global standard of education that has touched the lives of thousands of students.

A man in a pink-colored shirt.
VCU's School of the Arts building in Doha. (VCU School of the Arts)

Paul Petrie first came to Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983 as a professor and chair of the interior design program in the School of the Arts. Over the next two decades, he was instrumental in the school’s growth, most notably as the founding director of the Shaqab College of Design Arts — the precursor to the VCUarts Qatar.

VCU faculty have been remembering Petrie, whose 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. The longtime educator died May 2 at age 76. 

“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 the School of the Arts. “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 was a professor and department chair and served as associate dean for academic affairs at the School of the Arts from 1995-98. 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 its 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 received the VCUarts Award of Excellence in 2002, and in 2005 was awarded the VCU Presidential Medallion for his ongoing contributions to the School of the Arts. The school awarded Petrie emeritus status in 2005.

“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, Ph.D., VCU School of the Arts 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 VCU Qatar, impacting the lives of thousands of arts students and faculty on the Richmond campus.”

A white facade building by pictured in the evening.
VCU's School of the Arts building in Doha. (VCU School of the Arts)

Petrie received his Bachelor of Industrial Design from the University of Manitoba, where he was awarded the University Gold Medal, and his master’s in interior design from Syracuse University. Beginning in 1967, he practiced as a professional designer with several firms in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Prior to VCU, he taught at the University of Manitoba as a tenured faculty member.

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

Petrie was a strong supporter of high-quality interior design education, and from 1975-98 was an active member of the Interior Design Educators Council, of which he served as president in 1998. He was awarded fellow status in 1992 and in 1996 received a Presidential Citation.

Petrie was also active in what is now the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, the American Society of Interior Designers, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification and the International Interior Design Association. 

“His ability to work with others in various capacities made him a lifelong friend to many of his colleagues and associates,” said Buie Harwood, professor emeritus, VCU Department of Interior Design. “His many [Interior Design Educators Council] 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.”

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