In Memoriam - Donald E. Gjertson
By East Asian Languages & Cultures | Wednesday, January 10, 2018
By East Asian Languages & Cultures
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Donald E. Gjertson joined the founding (1969) generation of what was then the tiny Asian Studies Program in 1975. At that time very few students studied Chinese or Japanese. So the Asian Studies faculty set up a table in the Campus Center with signs, video, and handouts. Don participated in the hourly faculty rotation to make our presence known, just as if we were recruiting for some campus club. At the time Don was hired there was a tradition of “Berkeley East” whereby the newly hired were all from the University of California at Berkeley. In his interview for a position at UMass, Don, a recent Stanford Ph.D, broke that tradition, sweeping UMass Asian Studies and Comparative Literature interviewers off their feet. His learning, down to earth approach to teaching Chinese language and literature, his gift of listening with a wise counselor’s ear and earnest concern for others were deeply appreciated by thousands of students and colleagues through his more than three decades of dedicated teaching and research as a Professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Don’s research centered on Buddhist short stories and similar tales; see his book Miraculous Retribution: A study and Translation of T’ang Lin’s Ming-pao chi (1989). He taught classes on Chinese tale literature, novels, poetry, myths and legends, as well as second-year Chinese language. His students appreciated his dramatic and delightful body language when reading or reciting Chinese poetry. Don also taught graduate courses and was Graduate Advisor for Chinese. His course on translating Chinese literary works laid the groundwork for literary translation for a colleague in the Comparative Literature Department.
In 1980, the Asian Studies Program became the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, and Don was Department Chair from 1985 to 1991. For many years he was also Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts Advising Center.
Don was kind and generous, listening patiently as students and faculty poured out their personal problems. In addition to his academic advising, he was also an empathetic colleague and counselor for many.
Don’s great passion, besides his family, was hiking, and he was proud to have climbed the highest mountains in Japan, Taiwan, and the continental United States.
Don taught at UMass for 36 years until his retirement in 2011. He died quite suddenly while mowing his lawn on September 2, 2017. He was 72 years old.