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Gordon Paul Means ’50

A picture of Gordon Means

Gordon Paul ’50, August 12, 2010, at home in Chaska, Minnesota, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Gordon was a political scientist, sociologist, and author of several books on Southeast Asia. His parents were Methodist missionaries, who worked to develop schools and clinics for the Sengoi and Temier peoples in northwest Malaysia. Gordon lived in Sumatra, Singapore, and Malaysia before the family returned to the U.S. in 1939 and settled in Spokane, Washington. He joined the navy at 18, and came to Reed on the G.I. Bill. Gordon earned his BA in political science, writing his thesis on the political problems of the Malay peninsula, and later earned a PhD in political science from the University of Washington. Gordon's academic career was centered on Southeast Asia, particularly the conflicts among culture, religion, and modernization. Fluent in Malay, he taught at Willamette University, Gustavus Adolphus College, the universities of Iowa and Washington, the University of Minnesota's Institute of International Studies, and McMaster University. He had teaching and research exchanges with universities in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and China. He was a member of McMaster University's political science department in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, from 1967 until his retirement in 1992. He achieved worldwide recognition for the breadth of his scholarship and was honored in 2004 as one of the outstanding intellectuals of the 21st century. His books included Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation, Political Islam in Southeast Asia, and The Past in Southeast Asia's Present. He also was coeditor of the first Sengoi and Temiar dictionaries. Gordon had two daughters and two sons with his first wife, to whom he was married for 29 years. In 1987, he married Laurel Braswell, a professor in the English department at McMaster. They retired to Chaska, Minnesota, in 1996. In his public obituary, we read that Gordon lived his life to the fullest, “whether writing, lecturing, researching, enjoying family camping, strenuous canoeing in the Boundary Waters, fast-paced golfing, or competing even faster on the tennis court.” Friends and colleagues remember him as a humble man, generous with both knowledge and help, who was devoted to family, was full of humor, and had an unerring practical sense. Three days before he died, Gordon completed an edition of his father's notes, fragmentary manuscript, and photographs describing his parents' work among the Sengoi from 1931 to 1980. Gordon is survived by his wife, Laurel; four children; three stepchildren; and eight grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2011

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