- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

Kyaw “Joe” Htun, former copy editor at The Washington Times and the first foreign student sent by the government of Burma to study journalism in the United States, died April 11 at Berkley East Convalescent Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif., of complications related to gout. He was 85.

Mr. Htun was born May 9, 1921, in Rangoon, Burma. As a child, he taught himself English by reading British comics. At the University of Rangoon, he majored in English and graduated with honors.

After World War II, Mr. Htun was chosen to study as a state-sponsored scholar to help in the development of an emerging nation.

Mr. Htun arrived in the United States in 1947 to study at the Maxwell School of Journalism at Syracuse University, where he obtained a master’s degree in journalism.

At Syracuse, his roommate, Dick Gannon, gave him his American name, Joe.

Mr. Htun pursued his doctorate degree in international relations at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1954. He passed his pre-doctoral exams, but didn’t complete his dissertation before returning to Burma.

In Burma, Mr. Htun’s first job was as personal assistant to the prime minister in 1954.

During his tenure at the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Htun led a Burmese cultural mission to China and toured for one month as a guest of Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. In that capacity, Mr. Htun facilitated the first interview given by communist China to the Western press, which was between the prime minister and Edward R. Murrow of CBS News in Burma. Doing his part for television, Mr. Htun brought out his sticks and herded cows into the middle of a rice field as a backdrop.

Mr. Htun served as editor of a local English newspaper, the Guardian, but only for one week because promises that lured him away from the Prime Minister’s Office were not kept.

Mr. Htun then joined the management of the five-star Strand Hotel, the only hotel in Rangoon, once visited by John D. Rockefeller III, for whom Mr. Htun was a personal tour guide.

It was at the hotel that Mr. Htun was introduced to his future wife, Khin Aye Tint.

Mr. Htun was offered a job by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1963, where one of his duties was to persuade the Burmese government to accept foreign aid during a natural disaster.

At the same time, he took a job as a lecturer at the Adult University in Rangoon teaching English, and in his spare time, translated stories for the government-controlled Forward magazine.

While with USAID, the Maoist movement by university students led to clashes between Burmese nationalists and Chinese communist sympathizers. Mr. Htun was detained at a military checkpoint; during his interrogation, the commanding officer recognized him as his English teacher and released him, Mr. Htun’s son, Han Htun, said.

In 1968, Mr. Htun left Burma with his wife and four children for Bangkok with almost no money and the promise of a job.

The job did not pay well, so he started teaching journalism at the International School in Bangkok and worked as a journalist at the now-defunct Bangkok World.

Working 16-hour days and suffering from a heart condition, Mr. Htun wrote to his former professor at the University of Chicago about returning to complete his doctoral dissertation. The letter was read by the American director of a regional development bank who recommended Mr. Htun for a job at the Asian Development Bank. The bank’s president offered Mr. Htun a position, and the family left in 1969 for Manila.

Mr. Htun’s work with the bank earned him a position as an information officer with the World Bank in the District, so he moved his family to Columbia, Md., in 1974, commuting to the District by bus or vanpool.

At 62, Mr. Htun faced mandatory retirement and joined the copy desk at The Times. For a brief time, he wrote a column about his observations of life. He left his job on the copy desk at 80.

Mr. Htun is survived by his wife of 47 years; three daughters, MaPyone Htun of Columbia, MaMoe Htun of the District and MaDoe Htun of Philadelphia; a son, Han Htun of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.

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