E. Gene Smith

This obituary appeared in the New York Times, finally, on 28 December 2010. E. Gene Smith was not just an extraordinary scholar; he was, by all accounts I have read and heard (I never met the man, though I know folks who knew him well), he was also an extraordinarily generous and kind human being. I personally cannot claim that without Mr. Smith’s lifelong efforts to preserve Tibetan literature I would not be able to do what I do today, as, for example, most Tibetologists in the western world today rightfully claim (see, e.g., David Germano’s remarks in this obit). But a handful of my teachers over the years, at least one of which has played a significant role in my professional career to this day, are enormously indebted to the labors of Mr. Smith. So I’m a generation or two removed from E. Gene Smith in terms of my professional pursuits. All the same, I am awestruck by his vision, his achievements, and his magnanimity. This obit is clearly superficial in its coverage of E. Gene Smith’s life and work. Yet, I think anyone who reads just these few paragraphs about the man will be moved.

NB: Click on the image to read the piece; you should have a magnifying glass option to enlarge once it appears in a new window.

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3 thoughts on “E. Gene Smith

  1. andykorki

    Wow, I remember reading this piece when I had a few moments at work a while back. I never have time to respond, but I’m always reading! The link and magnifying glass works, btw. I remember I was planning on going home and commenting and then never did. How time flies! That’s the problem with life!

    Don’t take that the wrong way, I’m not trying to trivialize Mr. Smith or his accomplishments. It sounds like he was an amazing man, especially since he did not (correct me if I’m wrong) get a formal education in Tebetin studies, yet was able to single handedly gather a library of books on the subject that many scholars have been able to use.

    Reply
  2. peashoot Post author

    I don’t think he ever earned his Ph.D., but I think he did begin a doctoral program in Tibetan Studies, and he did take some Tibetan in college at Univ. of Washington. It sounds like his position with the Library of Congress field office in northern India (Delhi?) is what launched his mission to preserve Tibetan literature. I wonder if X-number of years in a Ph.D. program might have somehow interfered with what he ended up doing. In the Humanities, it’s such a long, slow slog to get the degree, often with many years disengaged from the world outside of one’s specialized research. Maybe that’s just my experience. And perhaps it’s my impending birthday that’s got me thinking about careers in general, and in academia in particular, but I suddenly feel old (unlike I’ve felt before), and yet I’m still a neophyte in my profession. Sometimes the contrast between my life-years and work-years troubles me.

    Reply

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