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Sunday, March 18, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dan Henderson, UW program founder, dies

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Dan Fenno Henderson, a man of tenacious intellect who started the Asian Law Program at the University of Washington in 1962 and directed it for almost 30 years, died Wednesday (March 14). He was 79.

Mr. Henderson was fluent in Japanese and traveled widely, serving as a visiting professor at universities in the United States, Australia, England, China, Japan and the Netherlands.

"We had a wonderful existence," said his wife of 36 years, Carol Henderson. "He was a scholar par excellence."

Mr. Henderson came serendipitously to his specialization in Japanese law.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College in Walla Walla in 1944, he was drafted into the Army to serve in World War II. At the time, the U.S. government was giving all Phi Beta Kappa draftees a choice: Learn Chinese or Japanese.

"He said it was the hardest choice of his life," his wife said. "He was interested in both."

In the end, Mr. Henderson chose Japanese and became the head of censorship under U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur's occupational force in Hokkaido, Japan.

After returning home, Mr. Henderson went to Harvard Law School under the GI Bill. He graduated from Harvard in 1949 and earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1955.

While working at a San Francisco law firm he met his future wife at a Christmas party.

"We went separately to the party," Carol Henderson said. "We went away together after that."

In 1959, they traveled to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and found, to Mr. Henderson's chagrin, that there were no good brochures on the history of the ancient temples.

"He was tearing his hair out," his wife said. She would have been happy to just look, but "he had to know everything."

He hired a rickshaw and hunted down a local professor knowledgeable about the site's history. The two talked for hours. "I've never seen someone dig out facts the way he does," his wife said.

Born in Chelan, Mr. Henderson always retained a love for the American West and a pride in his place of birth. Even in the circles of highly educated Easterners, his wife said, "he would always joke: `Well, I'm from the east - Lake Chelan."

He was also much beloved by his students. After he suffered a stroke last Christmas, one wrote to the Henderson family, "I wholeheartedly expect Dan to fully recover from this event, back to his feisty state of fierce intellect and down-home charm."

Mr. Henderson is also survived by his sons, Jay Henderson of Seattle and Louis Henderson of Los Angeles; daughters, Karen Henderson Mullins of Raleigh, N.C., and Gail Hardin Henderson of Grandview, Yakima County; brother, Otis Henderson of Chelan; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. April 2 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Remembrances may be made to the Seattle Art Museum.

Eli Sanders can be reached at 206-748-5815 or esanders@seattletimes.com.

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