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Friday, April 13, 2012

R.I.P. Dr. Kenneth Locke

[This essay was originally posted to "The Third Tale," a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]

Thanks to Jack Liu for the picture

In December of 2001 I returned to the U.S. after nearly five years of living in Japan. Having delved deeply into Buddhism there, I was surprised and delighted to learn that there was a Buddhist university in my hometown, on the very street where my father and his brothers had built a house for my grandparents in the late '40s.

Hsi Lai University (as it was then called, now University of the West) seemed like the perfect place for me to study.

Perfect it was not. As with any institution, and especially one that was very new and very small, it had its flaws.

But from the very first, there were a couple of people there who smoothed the way for me, one of the few non-Asian (and non-monastic) students in the graduate program.

One of these was Dr. Kenneth Locke. (The other was Dr. Bruce Long.)

While I was still in the application process, I received a call from the Admissions Office. Would I come in for an interview? There was some small problem...

The person who interviewed me was Dr. Locke. My application, he said, gave no indication of my ability to do graduate work in religion--this despite undergrad study in philosophy, a masters (in education), and two years of part-time Anglican seminary.

Seminary? Really? Somehow the admissions people had missed that. Within 5 minutes, "Doc Locke" had signed me off and I was admitted. But then something unusual happened: Why didn't I stay and chat for a while? he asked. Not for admissions, but for the sheer pleasure of conversation.

That's the kind of man he was: doing a thankless administrative job with grace, humor, intelligence, and deep, deep humanity.

I had lots of experiences with him, but two more stand out.

He was the prof for my "Mysticism" class, and for the class presentation, I chose to talk about William Blake. Dr. Locke was scribbling madly throughout, and it made me nervous: how could I be bombing this badly? But after class, when I asked what was up, he said: "No, this is fascinating! I knew Blake as a poet, but I had no idea he was so deeply mystical! I have to look into this some more. Can you recommend anything?"

You have to admire a teacher who's willing to learn from a student.

The second story still touches me deeply. I had a girlfriend in China, and had planned to go see her in May of 2003, which turned out to be at the height of the great SARS Epidemic.

I was working at Hsi Lai Temple at the time, and was told in no uncertain terms that I was NOT to come to the temple for at least two weeks after my return. (This despite the fact that Taiwanese nuns were coming in regularly, even though the epidemic had struck there, too.)

But no one said I couldn't go to class. So I did. As I walked into Dr. Locke's class, a nun jumped up and literally ran to the far side of the room shouting, "You're not supposed to be here! You've been in China!" While she was carrying on, Dr. Locke got up from his chair, walked back to where I was standing, and shook my hand, with his left hand on my shoulder in a sort of "man hug," and asked, "How was your trip? How's the girl?"

Later, he told me that he wasn't JUST being friendly. He was also modeling humane behavior--for the nun!

Today, via Facebook, I learned that Dr. Locke had passed away in a hospital, with family members around. I knew that he had had major health issues for many years, though I was never quite sure what they were; and I don't know what he died of.

But I am so, so sorry he's gone. My sincere condolences to his family, his friends, and the UWest community.

Here is Dr. Locke's vita from the UWest website:

Dr. Kenneth A. Locke is the Dean of Administration and served as the former Chair of the Department of Religious Studies. His specialties are Christianity, Western Philosophy and Hermeneutics. Prior to being appointed Assistant Chair, he worked as an adjunct professor in the Religious Studies program in UWest. He earned a B. A. in Theology and Biblical Studies and a Ph. D. in Theology from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. While at that institution he won numerous academic awards, including the prestigious Trinity College Foundation Scholarship.

He has taught undergraduate courses in Theology at Trinity College and has published a number of articles on the Anglican Church. In addition, he has published his book The Church in Anglican Theology: A Historical, Theological and Ecumenical Exploration.

The last time I saw him, in his office, he told me about his book with "humble pride."

I will miss him.


Pictures of Dr. Locke on the UWest FaceBook page

UWest Students Association tribute on FaceBook


Alma Ramon:

In case you have not already done so, there are a few more details on the UWSA and UWEST FB pages. Beautiful memories always live on. Thank you for sharing this about our beloved dean.


My Reply:

Thanks, Alma. I'll take a look.


Vanessa Karam:


Thank you for this beautiful memory of my brother, Ken. Our mother, his wife, and other family members and close friends were with him yesterday. He had been suffering for the past months (years really) from a deterioration of his heart and lungs, the aftermath of radiation therapy he had as a child to cure him from Hodgkins Disease. He died during open heart surgery. He was 45 years old.

Again, thank you for remembering Ken for those qualities which he most hoped to develop in his students: humanity, the recognition that the other is fragile, and the importance of presence, being there for others when things are at their least bearable. While he had a keenly analytical mind and loved learning, these were the things that he held as the highest good.

I will share your page with my mother and his wife. We miss him so terribly. May you be blessed for this kindness.


My Reply:


Thank you for taking a moment to respond at such a difficult time. I can only imagine how difficult this is, for all of you.

Even though I'm half a world away, and seldom had a chance to see him, I'm deeply saddened to know he's not in the world anymore.

Please convey my sympathies to your family.



Miles McClain:

Very moving. Thank you.

Categories: Bio, Gratitude

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