Nov. 16, 2006

David Wyatt, 69, Cornell expert on Thailand and Southeast Asia, dies in Ithaca

David Kent Wyatt, a well-known expert on Thailand and a professor of Southeast Asian history at Cornell for 33 years, died Nov. 15 at the Hospicare Residence in Ithaca. He was 69 and had battled multiple sclerosis for several years.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, at 4 p.m. in the auditorium of Kendal at Ithaca, 2230 N. Triphammer Road.

Wyatt, the John Stambaugh Professor of History and Asian Studies, also served as director of Cornell's Southeast Asia Program and chair of the Department of History. He retired in 2002 but served as interim curator of the Echols Collection on Southeast Asia at Cornell University Library from July 2004 to December 2005. He also was a performer with the Cornell Savoyards.

Wyatt spoke fluent Thai and traveled extensively in Thailand and Laos. He was the author of more than 100 books and articles, including "Thailand: A Short History" (1984, revised 2003), widely considered the standard history text. He edited and translated several Thai works, including "The Nan Chronicle" and "The Crystal Sands." He was elected president of the Asian Studies Association in 1993.

He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1959, an M.A. in history from Boston University in 1960 and a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history from Cornell in 1966; he joined the Cornell faculty in 1969.

"He was one of the most popular lecturers that the department has had, and that popularity lasted through all the decades," said Victor Koschmann, chair of the Department of History.

"He was truly a wonderful man and just well-loved by everybody," said Anne Kenney, a senior associate university librarian who worked with Wyatt during his interim curatorship of the Echols Collection. "He did an excellent job with both building the collection and serving as a point of contact on the Southeast Asia program."

Wyatt was highly regarded throughout Thailand by historians, scholars and former students, Kenney said.

"The respect he was shown by everyone there was just amazing," she said. "We ran into more people who had been trained by him or affected by him in some way, through his publishing and scholarship."

Wyatt's private library of 15,000 volumes on Thailand and Southeast Asia was acquired in 2005 by Ohio University's Alden Library. The collection features nearly all of the Thai royal chronicles, the diaries of King Chulalongkorn and a number of rare memoirs and cremation volumes.

He is survived by his wife, Alene Wilson Wyatt, of Ithaca; three sons, Douglas, Andrew and James; and five grandchildren.