Scholar amassed Tibetan book collection
E. Gene Smith, 74, who amassed what is believed to be the largest collection of Tibetan books in the Western world, died Dec. 16 at his home in New York City. He had diabetes and heart ailments.
Mr. Smith, who was an independent scholar, spent much of his life in India, Nepal and other parts of Asia collecting books for the Library of Congress. He worked for the library’s field offices in India, Indonesia and Egypt off and on from 1968 to 1997.
In 1999, he founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York, which holds nearly 25,000 books dating from the 12th century, including many of the seminal texts of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as secular works on other topics.
Mr. Smith became interested in Tibetan culture as a young man, converted to Buddhism and began acquiring the books. His efforts saved many books from isolation and destruction and made them accessible to scholars and Tibetan exiles around the world.
The Tibetan canon was threatened after China invaded and occupied Tibet in the 1950s. Refugees smuggled some books out, but the Chinese destroyed many others.
“With the close of the Cultural Revolution, you essentially lost much of the Tibetan Buddhist literature,” David Germano, a professor of Tibetan studies at the University of Virginia, said. “Collections of books in Tibet . . . were systematically sought out and burned during the Cultural Revolution.”
Ellis Gene Smith was born Aug. 10, 1936, in Ogden, Utah. His family traced its lineage to Hyrum Smith, the elder brother of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith.
After attending several colleges, he graduated from the University of Washington, where he studiedMongolian and Turkish.
He later studied the Tibetan language and became acquainted with a lama who urgedMr. Smith to collect and save books from Tibet.
Survivors include three sisters.