Scholar of religion and literature best known for his landmark English translation of the epic Chinese masterwork, The Journey to the West, Dr. Anthony “Tony” Yu ’60 died of heart failure on May 12, 2015, following a brief illness. He was 76 years old.
Anthony Yu arrived in Houghton as a freshman from Taipei, Taiwan; by the time he was a senior, he was president of his class. Active in the oratorio society, French Club, The Houghton Star and the English Club, Tony also played soccer (Gold captain, senior year) and was the only non-music major in Dr. Finney’s memory to volunteer to play a senior recital—all Beethoven.
After graduation, Tony earned a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and then went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Chicago—where he stayed for the duration of his professional career. As the Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities and professor of religion and literature in the divinity school, his service to the University of Chicago spanned five departments and 46 years. “Studying with him was a tremendous privilege,” said former student Eric Ziolkowski. “He exuded a passion and an intensity that were contagious to anyone fortunate enough to be his student.” Mr. Yu, as his students called him, “had high standards for scholarship and for life itself,” remembered former student Stephanie Paulsell. “He was a gifted pianist, an accomplished poet, an admired cook, and an elegant dresser. He cherished excellence in all its forms.”
That excellence was recognized in 2000, when Tony was elected to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences—one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers. He credited his educational experiences at Houghton as an integral part of his success. In a letter to former Director of Public Information and friend, Dean Liddick ’60, concerning his election as a Fellow, Tony wrote, “For a person who came to this country when he was a boy of 17-plus years, the election to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the highest scholastic guild of this nation founded by the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, it is a crowning honor to a life of learning. I do not regard this honor, however, merely as a sign of personal achievement, for I must pay tribute to my first alma mater. What I have tried to do in these last 32 years of teaching and writing owes a great deal to what Houghton bestowed on my spirit and intellect through her faculty and students.”
Tony is survived by his wife, Priscilla, and a son, Christopher.