Chanly Jong, a longtime resident of Swarthmore, died of complications of hypothyroidism at home on September 1. She was 64.
Chanly was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1956, as the seventh of nine children. Coming of age as the Khmer Rouge took power, she survived the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979. Her husband, a math teacher who had the background in education despised by the Khmer Rouge, did not survive. After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, she lived with her parents in Battambang and supported their business from 1979 to 1984, while caring for her young son Hokly as a widow.
Seeking to leave Cambodia for a life with more opportunity, Chanly fled with her son to Thailand in 1984, enduring a harrowing journey walking through mine fields. They eventually arrived at Khao-I-Dang Holding Center, a large refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. With legal status and housing secured, Chanly found part time work as a hairdresser while awaiting resettlement. By early 1988, they had been selected by the UN to go to the US. Chanly and Hokly arrived in Swarthmore in November of 1988 and were placed in the Refugee House at 409 College Ave, alongside refugee families from various other countries. She soon found employment at Swarthmore College’s Sharples Dining Hall, where she continued to work until 2008. During her time there, she was known as a diligent employee who took pride in the work with which she supported her family.
While living at the Refugee House, Chanly was introduced to the man who would later become her husband of nearly 30 years, Leslie Keighton. Leslie, who had lived next door at 311 Cedar Lane, was a fixture at the Refugee House and would help the residents with learning English. In 1992, they had their son George.
Alongside her husband Leslie, Chanly loved spending time in the garden. Being no stranger to hard work, she would often stay out late into the evenings and would accomplish much with basic hand tools, sometimes taking down and cutting up sizable trees. She cultivated a number of vegetables and herbs which she would use in her cooking. Chanly also enjoyed sewing, and found satisfaction in bringing new life to old clothing.
Chanly always thought of others before herself, and will be remembered for her strong devotion to her family. While herself not well educated, she worked hard to put her children through school. Her love was perhaps most evidently seen in the kitchen. Her daily packed lunches were always well-balanced, with nutrition and health being her first priority. In addition to preparing favorite staples, Chanly was a frequent baker, and enjoyed experimenting with different pancake and bread recipes. Family trips to the grocery store were a highlight of the week. The fall season is remembered with particular fondness, when she would stock up on cranberries and prepare fresh cranberry juice. Chanly also enjoyed watching cooking shows on PBS for many years, and took meticulous notes to incorporate ideas into her own cooking.
Chanly now rests in eternal peace with her husband Leslie, who predeceased her by just four weeks. She is survived by her sons Hokly Pith and George Keighton, several siblings, as well as numerous relatives overseas. A memorial service for both Chanly and Leslie will be announced at a later date. George may be reached at (484)-326-8519. Memorial contributions may be made to the International Rescue Committee.