University Community mourns History Professor Emeritus William Frederick

Published: March 25, 2023 Author: Staff reports

The Ohio University community mourns the passing of History Professor Emeritus William Frederick, who passed away on March 2 at the age of 81.

He was a professor in the History Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and also helped lead development of the Asian Studies program in the Center for International Studies (CIS). He came to OHIO in 1973 and taught courses and seminars on Southeast Asian history, as well as courses in world history, retiring in 2010.

"Bill was a welcoming and generous colleague, who helped build up our Southeast Asian Studies program, and who was beloved by his students. I never heard an unkind word said about him," said Brian Schoen, associate professor and history chair and the James Richard Hamilton/Baker and Hostetler Professor of the Charles J. Ping Institute for Teaching of the Humanities.

“Bill was a consummate professional who was deeply committed to CIS and its students, and his love for Indonesia and Southeast Asian Studies was easy to notice," said Patrick Barr-Melej, Center for International Studies interim executive director and professor of history. “Our community has lost a keen intellect and friend.”

History Professor Katherine Jellison recalled, "What I remember most is Bill's generosity. For instance, years ago when we were on a search committee together, Bill proposed that finalists for the position dine with committee members at his home rather than at a restaurant. Bill's graciousness as a host and talents as a chef were on full display at those dinner parties. On each of those occasions, he served an elaborate and delicious meal and regaled his guests with conversation about his travels, his New England boyhood, and his favorite films and books. Those evenings were the perfect way to impress job candidates that the History Department was a congenial place to work, and we ended up hiring an excellent young scholar for the position. This is just one example of how Bill's hard work, his talents, and his giving nature benefited his colleagues in the Department of History."

"Bill and Muriel loved to entertain, as Katherine points out," said Professor Emeritus of History Steve Miner. "Whenever Athens’ changeable weather allowed, they would host visitors in their beautifully tended garden, for they were both passionate and talented gardeners, and, in a nod to Muriel’s Hawaiian heritage, they believed that food and companionship were best celebrated in the presence of flowers, plants, and the sound of water from their fountain/pond. At their soirees, discussion always flowed effortlessly and freely, since they were both intellectually curious and always patient when listening to others.  A conversation with Bill was always just that–an exchange of views, never a monologue." Miner explained:

"Bill’s propensity to listen was one facet of his fair-mindedness, which I believe was at the core of his personality.  Whenever someone (often me, alas) made a strong declarative statement, or offered a sharp, un-nuanced opinion, Bill would often cock his head to one side and say: 'Well, to be fair....' before presenting a lucid, calm counterpoint.  He was not combative or argumentative, quite the opposite; he just saw most issues from more than one angle and was reflexively suspicious of strident opinions," said Professor Emeritus of History Steve Miner.

"This fair-mindedness and patience infused his relations with colleagues, and especially with his students," Miner said. "Bill’s patience and willingness to work hard to help others made him an excellent mentor to graduate students, and they loved him in return: he has an unrivaled diaspora of graduate students literally scattered throughout the world who remain devoted to him.  Bill was well-known as a champion of graduate students that others had almost thought to be beyond rescue."

"His willingness to champion near-lost causes led us to joke that he had a soft spot for troubled students–we called it the damaged wing syndrome, as in a wounded bird.  This amused him greatly," Miner continued. "Bill had a wonderful sense of humor and an unusual ability and willingness to laugh at himself.  He was a warm, sensitive, loving man; a great colleague and an even better friend.  I never saw him do anything ungenerous or unkind, and everyone who was fortunate enough to know him is better for it and will miss him so long as memory lasts."

Alumnus Jeffery Shane, who earned an M.A. History from the College of Arts and Sciences, described Frederick as a beloved professor:

"To say that Bill Frederick was a highly regarded and beloved professor would be an understatement. Bill was so much more. To many students, he was a trusted mentor and dear friend. He was always patient, attentive, and encouraging. He was also a sensitive and kind-hearted man, almost to a fault. He was also gracious with his time, especially if the conversation was Southeast Asian History. Bill and I spent hours on end in his office in the old Bentley Hall debating the historiography and great mysteries of Southeast Asia," said Alumnus Jeffery Shane.

"Bill enjoyed an upper middle-class childhood. His family owned the Union Oyster House, a prominent restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts. Characteristic of his upbringing, Bill attended one of the most prestigious prep schools in New England (Noble and Greenough) in Dedham. He subsequently attended Yale University," Shane said. "In spite his privileged education, Bill was hardly the sort to put on airs, except when it was employed for dramatic effect, which I always found endearing. Bill's quick wit and formidable command of the English language were often called into service when grading exams or reviewing a student’s paper. One of Bill’s favorite phrases was 'dog's breakfast!' The meaning of the phrase is self-evident.  (1892 Ballymena Observer in  Eng. Dial. Dict. (1900) III. 691/1  In a lump like a dog's breakfast, said of a heterogeneous heap of things.)"

"As students, we often have a limited glimpse into the hidden lives of our professors. There are boundaries. At some point, however, Bill dispensed with such formalities," Shane explained. "He became a treasured colleague, dear friend, and father-figure. It was through this lens that I discovered that Bill was in fact a Renaissance man. He was an accomplished chef and creative mixologist, an avid gardener and handy man. In the winter, Bill crocheted, baked, and read voraciously, both academic monographs and fiction, including his beloved detective series by Collin Cotterill. Each spring Bill would go to war against the cunning chipmunks who looted his bird feeders with reckless abandon. Little did the varmint know that Bill had a keen eye and was an accomplished marksman with a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. Rest in peace my friend."

Shane noted that Frederick's impact on the field of Southeast Asian Studies was by no means limited to Ohio University. "In fact, one of his most enduring accomplishments was establishing the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute, better known as SEASSI. Since its founding at Ohio University in 1983, SEASSI has provided Southeast Asian language training for thousands of students."

Frederick specialized in modern Indonesia, especially the period of Japanese occupation (1942-1945) and struggle for independence (1945-1949), but he also had a continuing concern for the region as a whole and its relation to the rest of the world. Frederick studied Southeast Asia as an undergraduate with Harry J. Benda at Yale University, and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he studied with Robert Van Niel and Walter Vella. In addition to teaching at OHIO, he served as a teaching or research fellow in Washington, D.C., Japan, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Indonesia. He was co-founder of the national Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute.

Frederick is author of Visions and Heat: The Making of the Indonesian Revolution, co-author and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War, co-author of The Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Southeast Asia, co-author and co-editor of the sixth edition of Indonesia: A Country Study and editor of Not Out of Hate: A Novel of Burma by Ma Ma Lay. "Bill also authored more than 40 chapters, articles, edited works, translations, editorial essays, and the like. At the time of his death he was working with Harry Poeze, a senior researcher at KITLV in the Netherlands, preparing a two-volume collection of primary sources for Southeast Asian history, and a translation of Tan Malaka's last writings (1948-49)," notes his obituary.

Frederick also worked with the Ohio University Press.

"Bill Frederick was committed to research-based scholarship and the fundamental role of scholarly publishing in disseminating a variety of works of academic excellence. I first met Bill in Scott Quad in 1989 but only got to know him well some years later when I took on the position of executive editor of the Research in International Studies series, which had become an Ohio University Press imprint, and asked him and Elizabeth Collins to join the CIS team of area consultants or series editors," said Gillian Berchowitz, retired director of the Ohio University Press. 

"Bill was the perfect colleague and collaborator in that he cared deeply about Southeast Asian Studies, and he empathized with authors and readers. He was motivated to acquire focused academic works of the highest caliber and equally enthusiastic about producing books that would appeal to a wider undergraduate readership. He was an avid reader of fiction and enjoyed working to develop academic manuscripts and books that were entirely readable, thought-provoking, and based on the best current scholarship we could find."

Berchowitz said Frederick's energy and practicality made for "a delightful working relationship. He would show up at the Press to pick up manuscripts he needed to read rather than wait for the mail."

She also noted that his hospitality and culinary skills were well known to those in the History Department who were lucky enough to have enjoyed them. "An invitation to tea or dinner at Bill’s house was a spectacular pleasure," she said. "Bill was fierce and fragile and he knew how to be a friend. I mourn him and miss him."