Billings native was a ‘giant’ of Asian scholarship


A dashing Michael Vickery in his younger days.

On countless occasions over the years, I’ve said to myself while reading someone’s obituary, “Why did I never hear of this person until now?”

I asked that question again today, reading a news-obituary in a newspaper I was previously unacquainted with, The Phnom Penh Post. The subject of the piece was Michael Vickery, a native of Billings who died late last month in Cambodia’s Battambang province.

The “giant of Southeast Asian scholarship,” as he was called in the article, also seems to have been a character one might have encountered in an Ian Fleming novel. The second paragraph reads:

“Colleagues, friends and family remembered him for his fierce intellect, unapologetic devotion to the truth, encyclopaedic memory and mastery of over a dozen languages, many of which–it was said–he picked up through various romances.”

Born in 1931 in Billings, Vickery earned a doctorate from Yale and went on to teach and do research at universities in Australia, Malaysia and Cambodia. His major work appears to have been “Cambodia After Angkor: The Chronicular Evidence for the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries.”

He was also unafraid to speak his mind, apparently. In 2001 he wrote a letter to the editor of The Phnom Penh Post, characterizing a recent article as the “filthiest piece of pseudo-journalistic hack work and character assassination I have seen in years.”

Wikipedia has a good summary of his life, but I would love to know more about him, particularly his years in Billings. I found nothing about him in the Gazette archives. If anyone has any information about him, we’re all ears.

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