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September 25, 2008

Obituary: Keiko I. McDonald

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 in Heinz Memorial Chapel for long-time faculty member Keiko I. McDonald, who died Sept. 14, 2008, at the Indiana Regional Medical Center, following an accident. She was 68.

An avid angler, McDonald apparently slipped into a stream while fishing and was knocked unconscious. The cause of death was ruled accidental by Indiana County coroner Michael A. Baker.

McDonald, a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, taught Japanese cinema, literature, culture and language courses at Pitt for more than 30 years. She was a popular teacher and a renowned scholar in her field, lecturing extensively both here and abroad.

McDonald published several books, including “Reading a Japanese Film,” which was selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title in 2006, as well as scores of scholarly articles and book chapters. Most recently, she had been working on a book on Japanese women directors.

Friends and colleagues remember McDonald as one of Pitt’s most accomplished scholars, a central force in the Japanese studies program and a dedicated teacher who loved her life.

L. Keith Brown, professor of anthropology and research professor at the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), said he was devastated at learning of McDonald’s death. “On a personal level, I enjoyed her energy and her positive approach to life. Her accident is a huge loss to me personally and to the institution. Keiko and I liked many of the same things, including Pitt football, the Steelers, running and Japanese food.”

As a academician, Brown said, McDonald was respected, passionate about her work and her students, thorough, considerate, generous, interesting and fun. “She was balanced in her personal and professional life,” he said. “In the last decade, she emerged as the world’s leading scholar in Japanese film studies. Her breadth, depth, rigor of analysis and insights are unmatched in the field today. She also was a true mentor in the finest sense of the word. Even in large classes she personalized the professor-student relationship.”

Lucy Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Film Studies and English and director of the film studies program, said, “Keiko was one of the major international scholars of Japanese film. She was one of the few scholars of Japanese film in the U.S.A. who grew up in Japan and was fluent in the language. That gave her special expertise in the field. She was a lively and beloved teacher who introduced many American students to the pleasures and wonders of Japanese cinema.”

Fischer added that McDonald was dedicated and generous. “She always greeted others with a smile and a laugh, and was incredibly gracious about thanking people whenever they had collaborated with her,” Fischer said.

Hiroshi Nara, professor and chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, described McDonald as a dynamo who loved life.

“She was the most disciplined person I’d met, whether it is work, play, exercise, research, anything. She did not have down time. On a typical day, she’d get up at 5 a.m., go to a gym, run a few miles, go home, write at least one page for her new book,” all before she began her day as a faculty member, Nara said. “Her dedication to the task at hand was unfailing, always at full-tilt. She was a bundle of energy and represented life itself.”

McDonald also was devoted to Charles McDonald, her husband of 42 years, her friends agreed.

A native of Nara, Japan, McDonald earned an undergraduate degree in English in 1963 at Osaka University of Foreign Studies in Japan. In 1966 she earned an MA in English from the State University of California-Sacramento, followed by a Doctor of Arts in 1971 and a PhD in 1974, also in English, at the University of Oregon.

In 1974-75, she served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Texas-Austin before joining the Pitt faculty in 1975 as assistant professor. In 1981, McDonald was promoted to associate professor and was named professor in 1992. She served as acting department chair in 2007, and was on sabbatical this semester.

During her Pitt career, she received three Fulbright Research Fellowships and a National Endowment for the Humanities summer research award. She also won the David and Tina Bellet Arts and Sciences Teaching Excellence Award in 2002.

Since 2003, she had served as chair of the UCIS/Asian Studies Center/Japan Council strategic planning and budget committee, overseeing the budgets of various endowments in Asian studies. She founded and organized the annual Japanese Film Festival, a staple at Pitt since 1985.

Outside academia, McDonald was an accomplished marathoner, having run more the 30 races. She also was passionate about fishing and was widely published on the subject in Japanese magazines.

McDonald acted in cameo roles in two films shot in Pittsburgh, “Gung Ho” in 1986 and “Lorenzo’s Oil” in 1992.

In addition to her husband, McDonald is survived by a sister, Miyoko Hajiwara, of Yokohama, Japan.

Contributions may be sent to the University of Pittsburgh/Keiko I. McDonald Memorial Fund, 316B Craig Hall.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 3

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