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Dr Sheldon Weeks, UPNG educator, dies at 90

Weeks was well settled as an educator when in 1974 he was appointed research professor and director of the educational research unit at the University of Papua New Guinea. And in PNG he was to marry for a third time

Sheldon Weeks
Dr Sheldon Griswald Weeks (1931-2022) - educator, traveller, writer and Quaker


NOOSA - Sheldon Griswold Weeks who spent 17 years as a university professor and educator in Papua New Guinea has died in Vermont, USA, aged 90.

Weeks was born on 18 November 1931 in New York, graduating from Brooklyn Friends High School in 1949 where he had been active in art, writing and sports as well as academic pursuits.

His love of travel began in 1948, when he was 16 years old and his family drove to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back and he spent the summer of the following year cycling in England, Scotland, Germany and Italy.

In 1950 he joined a World Council of Churches work camp in Naples, Italy, building the foundations for a hospital after most of the city was still in ruins after World War II, and he participated in the International Union of Students Congress in Prague.

Weeks returned to further his education at Swarthmore College, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and was motivated by English literature, psychology and history but found his milieu in writing short stories, which was not on the curriculum.

He spent the summer of 1951 as a social worker with troubled youth in Harlem, New York, then enrolled at Edinburgh University in Scotland, studying anthropology and sociology.

Still peripatetic, in June 1952, he joined a merchant vessel in Genoa, Italy, as a seaman, disembarking in Karachi, Pakistan, to spend a period at a work camp in Lalukhet helping Muslim refugees build homes before walking across a closed border to the Simla Hills in India where a hospital was being built.

He returned to continue his education at Swarthmore, returned to Alaska in 1953, to be employed by the Alaska Road Commission inspecting road work executed by contractors. In 1954, aged 23, he graduated from Swarthmore with a BA in Psychology, but still uncertain of his lifetime vocation.

His next job was with the American Friends Service Committee in New York (1954-1959) where he was responsible for work camps, conferencing and outreach activities at high schools and tertiary institutions.

Sheldon young manHe also became an activist in non-violent direct-action anti-war projects and was involved in a number of Supreme Court rights decisions related to travel, not taking a loyalty oath and being a conscientious objector on non-religious grounds.

In 1956 he made a significant personal decision when he joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers, and the following year married Sara ‘Sally’ Shoop, a teacher. Their daughters, Sara (1958) and Abigail (1960), were both born in Brooklyn.

In 1959 he attended the Putney Graduate School of Teacher Education in Vermont and then, in about 1961, became a doctoral student in comparative education at Harvard University.

A Ford Foundation Fellowship allowed him and his family to go to East Africa in 1962 and 1963 where he researched education practices in Kenya and Uganda. In Uganda he met his second wife Mary Kironde, a visual artist and educator, whom he married in 1964.

Weeks completed his doctorate (in education in sociology and anthropology) at Harvard in 1968, returning to Uganda to teach at Makerere University and, from 1972-74, at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

By now he was well settled as an educator and in 1974 he was appointed research professor and director of the educational research unit, at the University of Papua New Guinea.

He reunited with his sweetheart from the 1950s, Gudrun Schulz Gay, a concert violinist and music teacher, who became his third wife, joining him in PNG in 1980. Their daughter, Kristina, was born in Port Moresby in 1980.

One of many projects he initiated was the Secondary Schools Community Extension Project supporting rural youth in their transition from boarding schools back into their communities.

During his 12-year term as the chair of the UPNG Press, over 20 books were published.

Weeks was to remain in PNG for 17 years before moving to the University of Botswana in 1991 as director of graduate studies and research

In Botswana, he remained an active Quaker, editing the Southern Africa Quaker News and being prominent in welfare activities.

Sheldon aged manHe was a prolific writer, writing under the pen names Moto Wanachi, Sasa Majuma and Sheridan Griswold for several newspapers and magazines.

In 2013, Weeks was stricken by double pneumonia and heart complications and returned to Vermont to live in Brattleboro where he focused on writing short stories about his life.

In June last year he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and he passed away peacefully at home on 4 May.

He is survived by his younger sister Elinor Weeks, five children, two stepchildren, one unofficially adopted child, 14 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

With thanks to Robin Hide and Paul Barker


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