Joe McDermott

Joe McDermottFrom the Yale Daily News, February 23, 2014: “THIS DAY IN YALE HISTORY: In 1967 Joseph P. McDermott ’67 successfully trades places with his twin Edward, who attends Harvard. The swap was merely for fun, and lasted for a week. The two hitch-hiked to each other’s campuses, and took each other’s classes.”

“I had gotten to know both of them, and I caught on to the switch right away when I first encountered Ed as Joe at Yale,” says Tom Whalen. “Joe was one of the most unique and memorable people I met at Yale. I would never have imagined then he would become such a distinguished scholar of Chinese history at Cambridge. Good show, Joe.”

Yes, Joe did become a distinguished scholar; but he was more than that. When he died from a brain tumor last year on October 30, he was one of the most beloved Fellows in the history of St. John’s College at Cambridge University.

“Joe was a lovely man,” said Professor David McMullen, Emeritus Professor of Chinese and Fellow of St John’s, who knew him for more than 50 years. “He had a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful laugh. He deeply loved St. John’s. Of all the places he lived in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and the UK, St. John’s was where he found peace of mind and felt so at home. He loved talking to the Fellows, the students and the staff, and they loved him, too.”

He met his future wife, Hiroko Takahashi, an art historian who shared his love of Japanese culture, while teaching at the International Christian University in Tokyo. They married in 1978 and moved to Cambridge in 1990 after Joe was elected a Fellow of St. John’s, where he was Director of Oriental Studies for many years. His special interest was in the history of the family and traditional rural lives of people in China, as well as the social history of the Chinese book, calligraphy and painting, and state ritual.

“He had an intellectual energy with an endearing sense of mischief in conversation that drew people to him,” says Professor McMullen. “He and Hiroko were known for their generous hospitality and kindness.”