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Deceased Honorary Fellows
Leonard Edward Mason has been an active participant in the anthropology of the Pacific islands since the early 1940s, and has been an anthropologist for more than sixty years. He is one of that generation of scholars who became deeply familiar with Micronesia during the Second World War and who set out in the immediate wake of the war to conduct studies aimed at both rehabilitating the shattered lives of the Micronesian peoples and contributing to our professional knowledge of them. His career since that time has been dedicated equally to work on social problems in Micronesia and the education of non-Micronesians—students and professionals—about those lives.
Len was born in Seattle in 1913; he earned a B.A. (1935) and an M.A. (1941) in anthropology at the University of Minnesota, then went on to work with G.P. Murdock at Yale, where he received his Ph.D. (1955). He began his work in the Marshall Islands in 1946 as one of a small handful of researchers who undertook the U.S. Commercial Company's economic survey of Micronesia, providing a classic body of work for all who would follow, as well as seeking to determine ways in which the Micronesians' economy could be brought back to something resembling its prewar prosperity, a prospect that would, unfortunately, fail. Len then continued on with a staggering range of tasks in Micronesia, most notably his work with the displaced peoples of Bikini, about whom he eventually wrote his dissertation. His work in the Marshalls has continued almost unabated since that time.
Len taught at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawai‘i from 1947 until his retirement from full-time teaching in 1969. He was one of the founders of the University's distinguished program in Pacific Islands Studies and headed the anthropology department there for many years. A good many anthropologists received important elements of their training from Len and many of Micronesia's most effective leaders learned important lessons about other parts and peoples of their homeland and about its place in the wider world when they studied with him. Since retiring he has worked tirelessly as a consultant to a wide variety of programs, including service to the University of the South Pacific. He has worked with particular efficacy in the area of aging, though his own performance would seem to belie its existence.
When I first began my preparations for work in Micronesia I had the good fortune of encountering Len at the 1971 meetings of the American Anthropological Association. Despite the antagonism I then felt towards the senior generation of anthropologists who had, I thought, compromised the discipline through their service to the military in Micronesia, Len's own enormous good will, sensitivity, and commitment to the Micronesian people quickly transformed my perspective. Over the years the unfailing hospitality and kindness of Len and his wife Hazel have reinforced for me lessons my Micronesian friends have taught me about the proper conduct of adult social life.
Glenn Petersen, Baruch/CUNY (April 1997 Newsletter)