The Telegraph has a fine obit of a man I’d never heard of and am glad to know about, Gene Smith, “long regarded as the most knowledgeable of all Western scholars of Tibet and as the person who almost single-handedly ensured the survival of Tibetan literature after the Chinese invasion in 1950.” I’ll let you read about his remarkable work of finding and copying manuscripts there (“As a sideline Smith wrote introductions to the copied texts which far outstripped existing Western knowledge of Tibetan literary history and rapidly acquired cult status among academics”); here I’ll just quote this bit about his education in languages:
He was formidably intelligent as well as enterprising, and went on to study at small colleges in the north-west of the United States and at the University of Utah before turning to Asian studies at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1960. There, studying with Deshung Rinpoche and other masters who had escaped from Tibet, he became fluent in both colloquial and classical Tibetan.
In 1964 he travelled to Leiden in Holland for advanced studies in Sanskrit and Pali (the language of the earliest Buddhist scriptures) before winning the fellowship from the Ford Foundation which enabled him to go to India a year later.
Professionally, Smith was a librarian, and after leaving the New Delhi office of the Library of Congress in 1985, he went on to serve with it in Jakarta (1985-94) and in Cairo (1994-97), becoming expert in Indonesian and Egyptian cultures too (he was said to have been able to read in 32 languages).