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Philip Norman Jenner

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Philip Norman Jenner

October 16, 1921 ~ January 4, 2013

Philip Norman Jenner, Professor Emeritus of Cambodian and Southeast Asian linguistics, passed away in Olympia on January 4, 2013, at the age of 91. He was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, colleague and friend.

Born on October 16, 1921 in Seattle, Phil grew up on Queen Anne Hill surrounded by a loving extended family that included many aunts, uncles and cousins in addition to his parents and siblings. Much of his early family life influenced his future interests and career. Inspired by books he had read about the Near East and the Arabs, Persians and Turks, Phil's first experience with a foreign language was at the age of eleven, when he asked to be tutored in Armenian by an Armenian couple who lived in his neighborhood. In high school, he was strongly influenced by an extraordinary teacher-Charles Alban Taylor-who taught him Latin and Greek and who recognized in Phil a remarkable aptitude for language and an unusual joy in learning.

Phil entered Whitman College in Walla Walla on a four-year scholarship, later transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle where he studied Slavic languages and Oriental Studies. Although World War II interrupted his education, Phil put his linguistic accomplishments to use in military service when he was assigned to the Army Japanese Language School at the University of Michigan and eventually to the Military Intelligence Service Japanese Training School in Minnesota. Some years later, as a veteran, Phil worked under General MacArthur in Japan, making the most of the opportunity to explore the region that became his life-long passion.

In 1947, Phil married Miyo Marie Inouye. From their first meeting at her father's Pike Place Market flower shop, Miyo was the great love of Phil's life. Married for more than 50 years, they had two children, Robert (Bob) and Barbara.

Phil completed his education at the University of Washington and attended the University of Chicago where he was introduced to the ancient languages of Pali and Sanskrit. In 1969, he earned a doctorate from the University of Hawaii, subsequently joining the faculty in the Department of Indo-Pacific Languages. During his tenure there, he became one of the world's foremost authorities on Cambodian and Old Khmer. His work involved collaborations with researchers around the world and he published a number of books on Old and Middle Khmer and on the translation of ancient inscriptions at Angkor and other historic sites.

Phil relished teaching at the University of Hawaii for 20 years. He inspired his students not only in their studies but in their personal lives, carrying with him the memory of his beloved teacher from high school who had mentored him. As one of Phil's students expressed it, "Professor Jenner was my attentive teacher, trusted adviser, the best life coach, and a beloved father. He treated all his students as if we were his gifts to the world. He wanted us to be the best human beings and make the best life for ourselves while making the world a better place."

In 1984, Phil retired from his teaching career and with Miyo moved to Grays Harbor County, Washington, to be near a favorite cousin. With his son Bob, he built a comfortable home set on 22 wooded acres by the Delezenne Creek, a place they heartily enjoyed for the next ten years. Their life included four wonderful dogs, numerous visits by family, friends and students, a quiet life in the country, and wood projects in his workshop.

Phil spent his final years consolidating his many years of scholarship on the inscriptions of Cambodia. His legacy is inspiring a new generation of computer-based scholarship; developing websites that tie his dictionaries and translations to the Khmer inscriptions, and using the tools of corpus linguistics to study life, language, economy, and the environment as portrayed in these ancient texts. His last work, begun at the age of 90 and finished just two months before his death, was a translation from the Dutch of an Old Balinese dictionary.

Phil was preceded in death by his beloved wife Miyo in 1998, his brother Kirk and his sister Helen. He is survived by his son Bob (Melanie) Jenner of Olympia; his daughter Barbara (Earl) Meierhenry of Davis, California; nine grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; sister-in-law Fern Jenner of Tigard, Oregon; numerous nieces and nephews; and dear friend Vimalaratna Vicky Hamm of Point Hope, Alaska.

Phil's spirit of excellence in all that he did, his kindness and good humor, integrity and compassion toward humanity will live on in those whose lives he has touched, and he will be greatly missed and remembered.
Published in The Seattle Times on Feb. 24, 2013
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