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SEAC community mourns loses of Thomas Gething and Charles Keyes

January 7, 2022

The Southeast Asian Studies community has suffered two major loses in recent months with the passing of Charles “Biff” Keyes and Thomas Gething. Professors Gething and Keyes both leave long legacies of research, teaching, and mentorship that shaped generations of students. Obituaries provided by their families are below.

Thomas Gething

Thomas Wilson (Tom) Gething, age 82, of Hockessin, Delaware, a professor emeritus of Asian languages at the University of Hawai’i, died suddenly on October 17, 2021.

Dr. Gething was born in Jackson, Michigan in 1939. He received BA (English), MA (Linguistics), and PhD (Linguistics) degrees from the University of Michigan and completed additional graduate studies at Indiana University and Yale University. His advanced degree work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Ford Foundation.

In 1966, Dr. Gething began an academic career that spanned five decades and included university teaching, research, and administration at the University of Michigan, the University of Hawai’i, Ohio University, the University of Puget Sound, and the University of Washington. He retired from the University of Hawai’i as Dean of Students in 1995 and moved to Seattle, where he took a position as Director of Postdoctoral Affairs and quickly became a cherished colleague and valuable contributor to the Southeast Asian Studies program, directing the Southeast Asia Center from 1998-2002. After retiring from postdoctoral affairs in 2012, he continued to advise the Southeast Asia Center and Southeast Asian studies language program until 2015 when he retired and moved to Delaware to be closer to his family.

In retirement he continued teaching and tutoring at the University of Delaware and with American Academic Connections in Wilmington, Delaware. He frequently remarked that he went off to school at the age of five and enjoyed learning so much that he stayed on for 77 years.

Dr. Gething directly influenced the lives of numerous students in his classroom teaching of Thai language and culture, and through his landmark Thai Basic Reader (with Pongsuwan T. Bilmes), which served for decades as a required textbook in university classes across the U.S. and beyond. He was a cross cultural communicator who emphasized the impact and importance of international understanding and the role of multilingualism in facilitating social and political dialogue worldwide. To this end, he established a popular scholarship fund at the University of Washington to assist graduate students in Southeast Asian language training.

When not on campus, Dr. Gething enjoyed choral singing and was involved in church choirs and community choruses. He also was a singer and lector at churches in every community in which he lived.

Dr. Gething is survived by his wife, Mary Catherine (Herold), his daughters Katherine Sabini (Paul), and Elizabeth Williams (James), and his step-children Lynne De la Cruz (Marieto), and David Witwer (Christine). He is also survived by his grandchildren Peter and Evan Sabini (who inspired his years in Delaware), Patrick De la Cruz, Kiana, Noelani, and Mele Witwer, and Jeremy Williams.

In addition to his parents, Dr. Gething was preceded in death by his grandson Stephen De la Cruz.

A memorial mass was offered on November 5, 2021, at 3 p.m. at St. David’s Episcopal
Church, 2320 Grubb Road, Wilmington, Delaware. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to a charity of choice or to the Thomas and Mary Gething Fund for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Washington, Box 353650, Seattle, WA 98195.

Charles “Biff” Keyes

October 3, 1937 – January 3, 2022

Charles “Biff” Keyes, professor emeritus of Anthropology and International Studies, University of Washington, past president of the Association for Asian Studies, and a widely recognized scholar of Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, passed away in Portland, Oregon on January 3, 2022, after a long struggle with ALS. He is survived by Jane, his wife of nearly 60 years, his son Nicholas (Nick) and Nick’s wife Uayporn (Mem) Satitpanyapan, his son Jonathan (Jon) and Jon’s wife Katherine Kirkham (Kate) and their daughters Isabel and Ava, and his sister Marilyn Keyes Gordon. He was 84. In 1965, after receiving his PhD from Cornell University, Keyes joined the faculty of the University of Washington and would remain affiliated with the University throughout his career. At the University of Washington, he served not only as a professor but also as chair of the department of anthropology (1985-1990, and 2007) and director of the center for Southeast Asian Studies (1986-1997). In 2003 he was awarded the Graduate Mentoring award by the University of Washington in recognition of his work supervising the PhD committees of 44 students (nearly a third of whom came from Thailand or Vietnam) and 20 MA students.

Beginning in 1962 and continuing until 2014, he carried out extensive research in Thailand, usually with Jane as his co-researcher. They developed a very close relationship with villagers in Ban Nong Teun, a community in Mahasarakham province, Northeastern Thailand where they undertook their first fieldwork in the early 1960s and a place to which they often returned. They also spent many years in northern Thailand, beginning with research in the late 1960s in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, a district on the Thai-Burma frontier.

Keyes also had a long connection with Chiang Mai University in Thailand where he taught in 1972-74 and worked with colleagues there for many years afterwards. In 2004 Mahasarakham University in northeastern Thailand awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition for his long-time research in the region. In addition to teaching and research in Thailand, Keyes also worked with a number of institutions in Vietnam and was a visiting professor at Copenhagen University in Denmark, Gothenburg University in Sweden, the University of California in Los Angeles, and the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan.

Keyes authored, edited or co-edited 16 books, monographs or special issues of journals and published over 90 articles. His books include Impermanence: An Anthropologist of Thailand and Asia (2019); Finding Their Voice: Northeastern Villagers and the Thai State (2014); The Golden Peninsula: Culture and Adaptation in Mainland Southeast Asia, (reprinted, 1995); Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation State (1987); Cultural Crisis and Social Memory: Modernity and Identity in Thailand and Laos (edited with Shigeharu Tanabe, 2002); Asian Visions of Authority: Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia (edited with Laurel Kendall and Helen Hardacre, 1994); and Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry (edited with E. Valentine Daniel, 1983).

Among his most cited articles are: “Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist Nationalism: Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, And Thailand,” in “Religion, Law, and Society in Southeast Asia” (2016; “Democracy Thwarted: The Crisis of Political Authority in Thailand” (2015); “Cosmopolitan Villagers and Populist Democracy in Thailand” (2012); “Buddhists, Human Rights, and Non-Buddhist Minorities” (2011); “The Color of Politics: Thailand’s Deep Crisis of Authority” (2011); “Monks, Guns and Peace: Theravada Buddhism and Political Violence” (2007); “‘The Peoples of Asia’: Science and Politics in Ethnic Classification in Thailand, China and Vietnam” (2002); “A Princess in a Peoples’ Republic: A New Phase in the Construction of the Lao Nation” (2000); “Buddhist Economics and Buddhist Fundamentalism in Burma and Thailand” (1993); “The Interpretive Basis of Depression” (1985); “Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Culture of Gender and Rural Women in Buddhist Thailand” (1984); “Economic Action and Buddhist Morality in a Thai Village” (1983); “Political Crisis and Militant Buddhism in Contemporary Thailand” (1978); and “Towards a New Formulation of the Concept of Ethnic Group” (1976).

Although formally retired at the end of 2006, Keyes continued until 2011 to teach part-time at the University of Washington. Towards the end of his career he worked with the University of Washington Libraries on a project developing together with institutions in Thailand a digital archive of research materials on Thailand. Although he has as the Buddhist tradition of Thailand recognizes reached the end of his karma in this life, he has left behind a positive legacy manifest in his family, friends, students, colleagues, and writings.