Honoring Asia Foundation Trustee Emeritus Thomas Payne Rohlen
San Francisco, April 12, 2022 — The Asia Foundation mourns the loss of Trustee Emeritus Thomas Payne Rohlen, who died peacefully surrounded by family on March 6, 2022, at the age of 81. Rohlen served on The Asia Foundation’s Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2016. He was a Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow with Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies, and a former Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He also taught at the University of California, the University of Hawaii, and Harvard University. He served in Japan with the U.S. Foreign Service from 1962 to 1965. A Japan specialist by training, his research focused on such topics as Japanese corporate organization, the labor market, Japanese schooling, and, more broadly, on matters of economic and cultural change seen through the lens of contemporary institutional practice.
Rohlen was also a founder of the Aspen Institute’s Executive Program on Japan, the Stanford Japan Center, and the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies. The author or editor of nine books and numerous articles, his writings received several prizes including the Ohira Prize, the American Educational Research Critics’ Award, and the Berkeley Prize in Asian Studies. The American Anthropological Association presented him its Edward J. Lehman Award for Public Service in 1991. He received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton and earned a doctoral degree in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Foundation President David D. Arnold marked Rohlen’s passing: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tom Rohlen as a trustee, friend, and advisor. The Asia Foundation was privileged to have Tom as part of the Foundation family. He contributed greatly to the work of the Board and was strongly committed to the Foundation’s programs and activities across the region. He will be deeply missed by all.”
Tom was born on October 29, 1940, the oldest child of Karl and Frances Rohlen, and grew up in Winnetka, Illinois. Tom joined the faculty at Stanford University in 1980 where he held joint appointments at the Graduate School of Education and the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies. During his two decades at Stanford, Tom proved to be a rarity among academicians, seamlessly balancing the dual roles of educator and builder of interdisciplinary institutions and programs. After establishing the Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford where he spent the bulk of his time as Senior Fellow, Tom also established the Stanford Center in Kyoto, Japan where he served as its first director. Additionally, Tom founded the executive program on Japan at the Asian Institute for Humanistic Studies.
He was deeply admired and beloved as a husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend. He was an internationally respected academic, anthropologist, educator, program builder, philanthropist, policy analyst, and business consultant specializing in a wide expanse of research topics related to Japanese and Asian cultures.
Rohlen is survived by his wife Shelagh who traveled with him often on his Asia Foundation trips, his children Ginger, Katie, Duke, Brooks, Alison, and Michael, his stepchildren Karen, Jean, and Sarah, 19 grandchildren, his brother Karl and sister-in-law Carolyn, and his sister Ann. At the board of trustees meeting in San Francisco next month, the Foundation will celebrate his life and observe a moment of silence to acknowledge Tom’s legacy of service to the Foundation and the people of Asia.
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