M.'s friend and mentor, the anthropologist Carol Jenkins, died today at her home in Bangkok. She had been suffering from cancer for a long time, but continued to travel and work almost until the last moment.
I believe that most of us will meet, in the course of our lives, a few people who are truly extraordinary. Carol was definitely one such — her friends ranged from jazz musicians to doctors, from Bangladeshi hijras to ‘Stone-Age’ tribesmen from Papua New Guinea (she was one of the first foreigners to contact and live with the Hagahai tribe). She was sharp, funny, hospitable and immensely knowledgeable, and she had no tolerance for hypocrisy, injustice or sloppy thinking.
Among my best memories are of lounging in her comfortable living room in her Bangkok apartment, surrounded by her books and the beautiful objets d'art that she had collected on her travels, drinking good red wine and listening, fascinated, as she and M. talked shop. A working conversation with Carol quickly turned into a brain dump, as she poured out everything that she thought you might need to know on a subject. She was as generous with her knowledge and expertise as she was with everything else.
M. was with her when she died. She died in her own home, surrounded by her friends, with her two musician sons there to play her favorite songs. If there's such a thing as a good death, she had one, an appropriate end to a life that was rich and varied and full of purpose.
No one who met her will easily forget her. Her friends have set up a website, evidence of carol, to share tributes and memories and to celebrate her achievements.