[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] John Okell 1934-2020

Patrick McCormick mccormick.yangon at gmail.com
Mon Aug 10 04:09:40 UTC 2020

With great sadness we announce the death of John Okell (b June 1934, d 3
Aug 2020) after being diagnosed with a brain tumour at the end of June. He
died peacefully and painlessly surrounded by his family. His brief illness
took everyone unaware, initially manifesting as drowsiness.

John was Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Burmese at SOAS from 1959
until his retirement in 1999, after which he started running annual short
Burmese courses in Chiang Mai and then from 2009 in Yangon. John also
taught at the Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute (SEASSI) held in the
US for several summers during the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1969, John wrote an extensive two volume *A Reference Grammar of
Colloquial Burmese*, the first of its kind in its comprehensiveness, and
later with his SOAS colleague Anna Allott, co-authored *Burmese/Myanmar
Dictionary of Grammatical Forms* in 2001. In between, he developed a
four-volume course for learning Burmese with sound recordings*.* John
researched several Burmese dialects (Rakhaing, Intha, Tavoyan and Yaw),
which culminated in a major publication in 1995. Through his work, John
encouraged the study of one of Southeast Asia’s less taught languages, one
for which relatively few resources had existed.

Anyone who worked with John or had him as a student will remember him for
his patience and gentle humour, and his great skill as a teacher. He
brought a great depth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the classroom, which
his students appreciated. John always seemed interested in helping students
learn, whatever their aptitudes or abilities. After retirement, John stayed
immersed in Burmese, listening to broadcasts and reading widely. In the
digital age, he picked up on new expressions on social media.

John leaves behind his wife Sue, their two children Tom and Lucy, and five
grandchildren. He will be missed by a huge number of colleagues, students
and friends. Due to Covid 19 restrictions, the family plan a small private
funeral on August 18th, and John will be buried in the Chiltern Hills not
far from their home in North Barnett.

Justin Watkins and Patrick McCormick

PS for those interested, I attach the obituary of the Britain Burma
Society, which mentions John's OBE, and a link to an essay one of his
students wrote in his memory.

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