Gordon P. Means spent the early years of his life in Malaysia, then dedicated his adulthood to studying the region, writing books and scholarly articles, and editing the first dictionary for the Sengoi people, Malaysia's aborigines.

He died in his sleep at his home in Chaska on Aug. 12, just over a year after the publication of his last book, "Political Islam in Southeast Asia." The 83-year-old scholar's death came after a short battle with ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Means came to the Twin Cities in 1996 after he retired as a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He taught at several schools in his academic career, including a stint in the early 1960s at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., and a position as an adjunct professor in 1996 and 1997 at the University of Minnesota's Institute of International Studies.

Means' parents, Paul and Nathalie, were Methodist missionaries in Southeast Asia. He traveled with them in 1927 as a boy, growing up in Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia, said his wife, Laurel Means. In 1932, Means' parents began working with the Sengoi people in Malaysia, setting up educational and medical facilities.

In 1939, they left Malaysia and returned to the United States, settling in Spokane, Wash. Near the end of World War II, Means, then 18, joined the Navy, and then went to college. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Washington in 1958 and started a long academic career focused on Southeast Asia.

Fluent in Malay, Means often studied the conflicts between cultures and religion in Southeast Asia, as well as modernization and cultural development, Laurel Means said. He wrote three books, about 50 scholarly articles, and edited dictionaries for the Sengoi and Temiar languages, the latter of which was published by Hamline University Press.

Much of the work compiling word meanings had been done by Means' parents, but they were not able to produce dictionaries before they died, Laurel Means said.

Means was a member of Discovery United Methodist Church in Chanhassen.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children, Kristin, Norval, Erik and Kala; three stepchildren, Adrian Braswell, Eric Braswell and Julie Reiners; three sisters, Virginia Means Rowe, Mariel Means Ames and Charlotte Means-Shields, and eight grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for mid-September.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003