A secretary's thoughts on Professor J.W. de Jong

E. J. J. C. Kat (Betty Kat)

In 1965 Professor de Jong became the founding professor of the Department of South Asian and Buddhist Studies in the Faculty of Asian Studies of the Australian National University. An advertisement in the local paper asked for a secretary: "a knowledge of foreign languages would be an advantage". During the interview I believe the word Sanskrit was mentioned. Sanskrit? I had never heard of it, but I must have managed to disguise my lack of knowledge and was appointed. I also became one of the first students in the new department and studied Sanskrit under the patient guidance of Dr Tissa Rajapatirana - not very successfully I'm afraid, but in the course of time I could at least transliterate the titles of books.

From his bibliography it is clear that most of Professor de Jong's writings involved reviews. I felt privileged every time he brought in one or more reviews, in English, French, or sometimes in Dutch, for me to type (I am not being facetious, I really enjoyed that type of work). This was all done on a typewriter, a manual Olivetti to start with (1965) and later on an electric typerwriter (and I was grateful for an eraser ribbon!). When Professor de Jong inserted Chinese or Japanese characters in his writing, I could leave blank spaces, but when some Greek letters had to be inserted which I could not read, he suggested that I learn the Greek alphabet. Whatever he gave me to do, I did it with pleasure and I learned a great deal. When he asked me to transliterate Tibetan, I obeyed, although I was not as proficient in performing this task as Mrs de Jong. She was also the ultimate and best proofreader. His correspondence was extensive with scholars and students all over the world, but especially in connection with the Indian-Iranian Journal, which in 1957 he had founded with Professor F.B.J. Kuiper and with which he was involved until his death. As a matter of fact, when helping in sorting out his papers, we found his last letter, which had not been sent, addressed to Professor Kuiper.
However, it was not always work: through the years Professor de Jong and I were combatants on the tennis court! Only on very few occasions did I manage to beat him.
First and foremost Professor J.W. de Jong was a scholar. He had no passion for administration; he disliked meetings and spent as little time as possible in Heads of Departments and Faculty meetings, whereas Departmental meetings were always of short duration. Faculty meetings were always scheduled for Friday mornings and so were Professor de Jong's lectures! If he did attend such a meeting, he usually took some reading material other than the agenda and relevant papers.
Anyone familiar with Professor J.W. de Jong's work cannot help but being overwhelmed by his astonishing knowledge of the literature dealing with not only his chosen field of study, Buddhist philology, but also with literature concerning philosophy, with general literature, biographies, fiction from Van Gulik to Agatha Christie and many others. His extensive library contained books on many topics in a variety of languages, for instance Dutch, French, English, German, Latin, Greek, Russian, Italian, Danish, Chinese and Japanese. For relaxation he would meet once a week with a scholar in Classical Languages to read original Classical Greek!

Professor de Jong was devoted to his work and expected his staff and students to be as diligent as he was. He would be most annoyed when students and staff did not live up to his work ethic. Having worked for Professor de Jong over many years, I have no hesitation in saying that I greatly admired him for his scholarship.