Tribute to Dr. David See-Chai Lam

Dr. David See-Chai Lam, OC, CVO, OBC, passed away on November 22, 2010 after a courageous battle against cancer. His passing saddens thousands of friends, admirers and beneficiaries, particularly in Canada, the United States and Hong Kong, where he carried out most of his philanthropic work.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lam, his wife Dorothy, and their three daughters in the mid-1980's, and soon became their friend, and his occasional advisor on intercultural matters. He was of course best known, loved and admired for his philanthropic practice, gifting many millions of dollars and leveraging millions more to support educational institutions and activities in Canada, Hong Kong and the U.S. He was also a devoted gardener and generous benefactor and supporter of gardens in Vancouver and Victoria. His many charitable interests and activities were by no means limited to education and gardening, but these are the two areas with which I am most familiar and through which I came to know and admire his huge heart.

It was through his ideas and his public speeches about multiculturalism, harmonious diversity and identity issues that I really came to understand the maturity and magnanimity of his vision. This is nowhere better summarized than in his 1997 speech to the 4th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention in Vancouver. To dramatize his feelings about the virtues of multiculturalism and the dangers of stereotyping, he gave his speech in English and asked me to read the Chinese translation for the audience. His advice to Chinese entrepreneurs around the world was succinctly summarized by his own motto: "Adopt, Adapt, Improve." Immigrants should adopt their new homeland as their own, adapt to the ways of their new homeland, and strive to improve upon life in their adopted community.

In this speech, he told his audience: "In a multicultural world, the requisites for cultural co-existence demand a search for what is most common to most civilizations. We must seek and appreciate such commonalties in our cultures. It is on this basis that civilizations can co-exist with each other, and we who come together here from all corners of the world where we have made our homes, are in an excellent position to lead the world into a new awareness of the importance of harmonious co-existance as the workable alternative to any clashing of civilizations."

His physical presence will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him, but his enduring spiritual presence remains to help us in our efforts to help each other in our ever expanding circle of human relatedness.

Jan W. Walls
Professor Emeritus, SFU Founding Director, David Lam Centre for International Communication
Former Vice President, APFC (1985-87)

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