[KS] William Theodore de Bary, 1919-2017 [Obituary by Brett de Bary]

Frank Joseph Shulman fshulman at umd.edu
Fri Jul 21 20:52:12 EDT 2017

The following obituary was posted on H-Japan on July 20, 2017.

Please note that de Bary promoted the study of Korean civilization as
well as that of China, Japan, India and Vietnam.

Frank Joseph Shulman
July 21, 2017.

William Theodore de Bary, 1919-2017

From: Brett de Bary (bmd2 at cornell.edu [1])

Dear Colleagues, It is with deep sadness that I announce that my father, Wm.
Theodore de Bary, passed away peacefully at his home, Hōtokudō, in Tappan,
New York, on July 14, 2017. He taught many of you, who are now such
distinguished Asianists, as undergraduates or graduate students at Columbia.
He remembered you and took great pride in your achievements until the end of
his long life. I attach a preliminary obituary. The funeral was held on
Tuesday, July 18, 2017, and there will be a formal memorial service at
Columbia University in the fall. Best, Brett de Bary
William Theodore de Bary (1919-2017)

Wm. Theodore de Bary, acclaimed scholar of East Asian thought and a leader in
the development of Asian Studies in the United States, died peacefully in his
home, Hotokudo, in Tappan, New York, on July 14, 2017. John Mitchell Mason
Professor Emeritus and Provost Emeritus of Columbia University at the time of
his death, de Bary continued to teach after his formal retirement in 1989.
Although weakened by a heart condition, he completed grading the papers for
his last course in May, 2017.

de Bary, one of five children born to Mildred and Wilhelm de Bary in Bronx,
New York, in 1919, grew up in Leonia, New Jersey. Entering Columbia College
as a scholarship student, he began the study of Chinese as a sophomore in
1938. In 1942, while a Master’s candidate at Harvard, he was recruited by
the United States Navy for intensive training in Japanese and served as an
intelligence officer during the Pacific War. He achieved the rank of
Lieutenant Commander and worked briefly for the Office of Naval Intelligence
in 1946. His experiences in Okinawa, Japan, and China during the war
persuaded him of the importance of continuing to learn from East Asian
cultures. He always credited his wife, Fanny Brett de Bary, for inspiring him
to return to do a Ph. D. at Columbia in 1947. Together with his friend Donald
Keene, he studied under Ryusaku Tsunoda, who had recently been released from
an interment camp for Japanese-Americans and who became a revered mentor. In
1949, he was a Fulbright fellow at Beijing University when Communist troops
arrived in the city.

While still a graduate student in 1948, de Bary was made chair of a committee
charged with extending the undergraduate core curriculum in Western
civilizations to include Asian civilizations. He recruited gifted colleagues
to join him in assembling a series of source books containing translations of
major classical and modern texts of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian traditions.
These have been updated and revised on several occasions and are currently
used as textbooks by numerous universities throughout the world. More
recently, Professor de Bary served as editor for an addition to the series
covering Korean civilization and encouraged the development of a companion
work on Vietnamese civilization by colleagues at Columbia. He went on to
author and edited over twenty books.

His last book, "The Great Civilized Conversation: Education for a World
Community", was published in 2013. In it, he established concrete links among
Islamic, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Western classics, emphasizing shared
understandings of humanity and shared concepts of civility. Reflecting on
history's great scholar-teachers and what their methods can teach us today,
he reflected on the power of "The Analects of Confucius", "The Tale of
Genji", and "The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon" as he experienced them in the

>From 1970 to 1978, de Bary served as Provost of Columbia University, where he
worked to balance the University’s new endeavors with the values that had
inspired him when he first attended the University as an undergraduate.
During this time, he raised the endowment for and established Columbia’s
Heyman Center for the Humanities. Throughout his career, de Bary believed
strongly that undergraduate education was a central mission of the
university, and he saw this mission as a responsibility to be shared by all
segments of the University. He also worked assiduously to promote studies of
the humanities as a necessary adjunct to scientific research and professional
education. He believed firmly that the classics were best read and discussed
between students and faculty in small groups. Teaching pro bono through May,
2017, he learned shortly before his death that his Fall course, “Nobility
and Civility,” was oversubscribed.

For his scholarship and dedication to human understanding on a global level,
he had received the highest awards from the United States, Japan, and Taiwan
in addition to many awards and honors at Columbia University. He was awarded
the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama for fostering a
global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by all
cultures, helping to bridge differences and build trust. He was also a member
of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun and, in 2016, was honored to be awarded
the distinguished Tang Prize from the Tang Foundation in Taiwan for his work
in Sinology.

Professor de Bary’s wife, Mary Fanny Brett de Bary, of Northport, New York,
and his daughter, Mary Catherine de Bary Sleight, pre-deceased him. He is
survived by three of his children, Brett de Bary Nee, a professor of Japanese
Literature at Cornell University, Paul de Bary, an attorney and financial
advisor in New York, and Mary Beatrice De Bary Heinrichs, a teacher at the
Academy Hill School, his son-in-law, Victor Nee, a Professor of Sociology at
Cornell University, his daughter-in-law, Stefana de Bary, and her son
Alexandru Marinescu, and a son-in-law, William Sleight, of San Rafael,
California. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and their spouses,
William Nee, of Oakland, California, and David Nee, Ned and Katrina Chapman
de Bary of Boston Massachusetts, and John de Bary and Michael Rameley, of New
York City, Cynthia Sleight, of Austin Texas, Johanna and Scott Moringiello,
Annalies Heinrichs and Damjan DeNoble and Lydia Heinrichs and three great
grandchildren, Theodore and Marco Moringiello and Adelaide DeNoble. In his
last years, he was supported by a group of extraordinary caregivers and by
his fellow parishioners at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Tappan, New

A funeral mass was held at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Tappan,
New York, at eleven a.m. on Tuesday, July 18th. In lieu of flowers, donations
may be made to the parish or to the Wm. Theodore de* *Bary and Ainslie T.
Embree Fund for Education and Outreach of the Association for Asian Studies
(http://www.asian-studies.org [2]*).  *

[1] mailto:bmd2 at cornell.edu
[2] http://www.asian-studies.org
Read more or reply:

Frank Joseph Shulman
Bibliographer, Editor and Consultant for Reference Publications in Asian Studies
9225 Limestone Place
College Park, Maryland 20740-3943 (U.S.A.)
E-mail: fshulman at umd.edu

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