Obituary: Eugene “Gene” Kabbe

11/29/2018 3:18:41 PM

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Vanessa Powell
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It may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Kurdistan that someone would want to live and die here. After all, how does someone come to know about Kurdistan?

But Eugene “Gene” Kabbe did come to know Kurdistan and dedicated the later years of his life to serving the Kurdish people through education.

Gene Kabbe was a university lecturer who served Kurdistan for five years. He taught hundreds of undergraduate students English at three public and private universities: Soran University, the Catholic University in Erbil, and Cihan University. He taught for WHA Services and volunteered in IDP camps working with Yazidi children. Kabbe was committed to the Kurdish people and the Kurdish cause and he pursued this by educating young people. An endeavour he pursued selflessly and with very little recognition.

Kabbe was passionate about linguistics and bilingual education.  He was taking a graduate program at the Southern Illinois University (SIU) in curriculum and instruction when first heard about Kurdistan. He had become friends with Kurdish scholarship students studying at SIU in Carbondale, Illinois and, through his friends, came to know about Kurdistan. At one stage he even started a blog to raise awareness of Kurdistan in the USA.  Through his friends at SIU, he received a job offer and came to Kurdistan and moved to Erbil in 2015.

He had fulfilled a lifelong dream when he finally finished his Bachelor’s degree in 2008, a degree he had first started in 1968. He stated in an interview that while he had always thought that he would go back to get a film degree -- as his two sons David and Andrew worked in the film industry -- but, he said he got side-tracked by languages. He went on to complete his Masters in TESOL and was accepted into a Ph.D. program.

In the summer of 2017, Kabbe travelled to Sinjar with his son Andrew Kabbe, a Hollywood film producer, and David Shumack to shoot the feature film Scorched Earth about the Yazidi genocide. The film is still in post-production.

I worked with Gene at the Catholic University in Erbil for one year. We were colleagues and neighbours, living and working alongside one another teaching an English for Academic Purposes program.

He returned to the United States earlier this year for medical treatment and was diagnosed with cancer in July. He was undergoing chemotherapy treatment in the States, supported by his four children Andrew, David, Suzy, and Katy, as well as his grandchildren, who he adored and talked about often.

He had wanted to stay in Kurdistan and receive his medical treatment here, but it would have been very expensive. As a veteran, his treatment costs in the United States were covered, so he reluctantly returned for medical treatment thinking that he would come back.

Our dear friend Gene Kabbe died peacefully in the United States on Thanksgiving Day surrounded by his four children. He leaves behind his four children, partner Irma, and his friends Hozan, Claire, Joseph, John, and San.