The Southeast Asia Center and Viet Nam Studies community in Seattle is mourning the passing of our dear friend and cherished colleague Joseph “Joe” Hannah, at 61, after a courageous battle with cancer. Joe is survived by his loving wife, Dr. Hoàng Thị Diệu Hiền and their two sons, Ian and Bảo-Ân, as well as many siblings and a host of close friends.
Joe’s journey with Viet Nam began in the early 1980s as a volunteer in Vietnamese refugee relief work in Singapore. After his Master’s degree in Southeast Asian Studies (Cornell, 1989), he, alongside Hiền, worked with international NGOs in Viet Nam in the momentous years before and immediately after the normalization of Viet Nam-US relations.
Joe’s focus then shifted to first assisting, and later studying, the emergence of local NGOs within Vietnamese civil society under Đổi Mới. His Ph.D. dissertation in Geography, Local Non-government Organizations in Vietnam: Development, Civil Society, and State-Society Relations (UW-Seattle, 2007), was one of the first systematic studies of Vietnamese NGOs and greatly influenced and inspired the now-burgeoning field of Civil Society Studies in Viet Nam.
Joe served the scholarly community and the academy in multiple ways, e.g. as a member of the Executive Committee of the Viet Nam Studies Group. He was a sought-after speaker on critical development studies, civil society formation, and critical cartography and taught related courses, with typical energy and passion, for the Department of Geography at UW for many years and to much acclaim.
Joe had a decades-long interest and expertise in information, communication and teaching/learning technologies. In early 1990s Viet Nam, he almost single-handedly wired international NGOs to the infant internet, earning him a temporarily heightened interest by certain state agents. And a few years ago, at the top of his career, when UW started its Integrated Social Sciences (ISS) online degree program, Joe naturally taught courses there and became a trusted, highly popular academic advisor, with “his fingerprints,” per co-director Mel Wensel, “present in all aspects” of ISS.
Aside from being a scholar, teacher, mentor, and innovator, Joe was the definition of a mensch. Kind, unassuming and with a frequent chuckle, he lived his life simply, humbly and with mindfulness and wonder, deeply enriching the lives of those in his presence.
Please hold Joe, Hiền and the family in your thoughts.