Syed Mustafa Husain was a Renaissance man who was never too old to learn something new.

A botany professor by training, Dr. Husain also was an accomplished mechanic, carpenter and musician. In his mid-50s, he went to medical school to become a psychiatrist.

Choosing to go back to teaching instead of practicing psychiatry, Dr. Husain left a legacy as a demanding but caring professor at Rowan University.

Dr. Husain, 81, of Pitman, died of emphysema on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at Underwood-Memorial Hospital.

A native of India, Dr. Husain came to the United States in 1954, right after marrying Syeda Bilgrami. He wanted better opportunities than what he had in Hyderabad, India, his family said.

Dr. Husain enrolled in Cornell University's doctoral program and earned a degree in plant pathology.

In 1960, he joined the faculty at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.

As a biological science professor, Dr. Husain was known to push students and be very rigorous. He assigned even his freshmen to do research, which was unheard of when he started, said Thomas Gallia, who took Dr. Husain's botany class in 1962 and is now Rowan's vice president for university relations.

"He was a strong advocate for teamwork," Gallia said, adding that Dr. Husain's tough teaching style was "extremely effective."

As a colleague, Dr. Husain, also known as Musty by many in the science faculty, was a good mentor to the younger and new professors.

Once Dr. Husain's three children were grown, he decided to pursue his dream of being a medical doctor, his son Ali said.

In the 1980s, Dr. Husain enrolled at Spartan Health Sciences University in St. Lucia and after completing his medical degree in 1987, did his psychiatry residency at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington.

Being close to retirement age, Dr. Husain decided "it wouldn't be wise to open a practice," his son said. So, he went back to teaching at Rowan and added more courses, such as anatomy, to his curriculum.

Dr. Husain retired from teaching in 1994.

Having been the first one in his family and neighborhood in India to come to the United States, he was seen as the pioneer. Many people from his native India sought him out for help in coming to the United States. He often hosted families in his home for several months until the families could stand on their own.

"I grew up with a house full of people," his son said. "He was so generous."

As a hobby, Dr. Husain did a lot of carpentry throughout his house and worked on cars with his sons.

"He rebuilt from the engine to the body," his son said.

Dr. Husain was also a talented sitar player.

In addition to his son and wife, Dr. Husain is survived by another son, Najaf; a daughter, Zehra Travis; and seven grandchildren.

A graveside service was held Thursday, Dec. 2, at Princeton Memorial Park in Robbinsville, Mercer County.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.