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Pioneering educator, researcher Isabel Crook dies at 107 in Beijing

By Zou Shuo | | Updated: 2023-08-20 21:50
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Isabel Crook

Canadian educator and anthropologist Isabel Crook, who pioneered English language teaching in New China and was a recipient of the Friendship Medal, China's highest honor for foreigners, died on Sunday in Beijing at the age of 107.

Crook, who lived and worked in China for more than 90 years, witnessed and participated in the development of China's foreign language education, according to a eulogy released by Beijing Foreign Studies University, where she taught English for more than 70 years.

She cultivated a large number of foreign language talent in China and made significant contribution to China's education, its friendly cooperation with other countries and its people-to-people exchanges, the eulogy said.

She helped compile China's first English language textbooks for college students and was instrumental in English discipline building, reform and teachers' development. As an anthropologist and sociologist with communist ideals, she wrote books recording China's revolutionary undertakings and presented to the world a real and vivid picture of the country.

Isabel Crook was born on Dec 15, 1915, to a Canadian missionary family in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province.

At the age of 23, she graduated from the University of Toronto in Canada with a master's degree in anthropology and started field research in rural parts of Sichuan. She became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain after meeting her future husband, David Crook, in China in the early 1940s.

In 1947, the couple was warmly welcomed by the Communist Party of China to observe and study the revolutionary land reform taking place in the country. A year later, they accepted the invitation to teach at what is now BFSU. David Crook passed away in 2000 at the age of 90.

In a recent interview with local broadcaster BRTV, their son Michael Crook said the secret to his mother's long life was that she always had a mission, which made her life very meaningful.

Two days before she died, Isabel Crook attended a public event organized by BFSU and the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, the university said. Honoring her wishes, there won't be a public funeral and her remains will be donated for medical research, it added.

Jia Qianfan, who graduated from BFSU in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in English translation and interpretation, said she received the Crooks Scholarship, conferred by Isabel and Michael Crook, at the age of 18.

"I consider the scholarship the first important gift of my adult life, and it has always been a source of motivation for me," she said, adding that Isabel Crook is "an idol for all foreign language learners and practitioners" in China.

He Jing, director at BFSU's International Exchange and Cooperation Office, said Isabel Crook is a beacon for all faculty and students of BFSU.

He is also a recipient of the Crooks Scholarship and helped translate one of Isabel Crook's books Revolution in a Chinese Village: Ten Mile Inn when she was a postgraduate student at the university.

"Each time I interacted with her, I was touched by how warm, easygoing and unbeatable she was," she said.

She never used the slide to get into her three-story apartment at the university. She went to the small playground at the university to take a walk twice every day and is always keen to provide wisdom and suggestions to BFSU development.

"When she was 106 and I visited her, we took a walk together, she even joked that young people could seat in the wheelchair and she can push us," she said.

"She seemed to have endless energy, even at the age of 106. Her spirit will always motivate teachers and students at the university."

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