Mai Lan Gustafsson, 48, died in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 27, 2018. Lan was born in Houston, TX, but considered her childhood home to be Piscataway, New Jersey. She completed her undergraduate degree at Rutgers University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Syracuse University. She moved to Newport News in 2005 with her husband Per Gustafsson, dog Boo, and cats Leo, Euther, and Lester. Lan is predeceased by her husband of 11 years, Per, who loved and respected her immensely. She once said the two shared the same language and when he passed away, she lost half her vocabulary. Lan is survived by her stepdaughter Maria Gustafsson, mother Que Anh Putnam, father Ronald R. Putnam, sister Mai Linh Keller and brother-in-law Todd Keller, and two nieces, Natalie and Nina. She was a strong advocate for animal-related causes and also leaves behind three beloved rescue dogs, Bey, Norris, and Howie
During her 13 years as an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Christopher Newport University, Lan had a profound impact on her students, colleagues, and the local community, particularly through her work with the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services. Adored by her students for her genuine and sincere personality, deliciously dark humor, and raw honesty. Lan was fiercely loyal to her colleagues, providing leadership, direction and support over the last four years as the Chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology. Her scholarship took her back to the place where her parents met and married in Vietnam. Her ethnographic research culminated in multiple academic publications, including the widely reputed book, War and Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam. Internationally recognized for her expertise in Vietnamese culture and religious traditions, she was interviewed by several media outlets, including the BBC, and served as a consultant for the award-winning short film, Wandering Souls and an upcoming feature film about beliefs in spirit possession among the Vietnamese.
As Ursula K. Le Guin once said, “There’s a point, around the age of twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities.” Lan embraced the beauty of peculiarity in the best possible way, lived her life on her own terms, and left an indelible mark on every person she met.
A Celebration of Life service for Mai Lan Gustafsson will be held at the Pope Chapel on the campus of Christopher Newport University on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 11am. Donations in Lan’s memory can be made to the Peninsula SPCA.
Date: Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Time: 11:00 am
Pope Chapel at Christopher Newport University
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