By RON FANFAIR
Wilfrid Laurier University welcomed some heavy hitters to its fold last Friday. Millionaire philanthropist, Michael Lee-Chin, was installed as the institution’s eighth chancellor while three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, Lennox Lewis, was bestowed with an honorary doctorate a few hours later in the same recreational complex gym where he played basketball while growing up in nearby Kitchener.
The eldest of nine children, Lee-Chin came to Canada from Jamaica in 1970 at age 19 to study Civil Engineering at McMaster University while Lewis – the son of Jamaican parents – migrated from England when he was 12 years old.
In his convocation address after receiving his chancellor’s robe, Lee-Chin shared with business and economics graduates some of the things to which he has attributed his success.
“I have always believed that to be successful in any endeavour, there is a three-step formula,” said Lee-Chin who eight years ago donated $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum’s expansion and renovation campaign for which the landmark addition was named the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal and the four-storey interior atrium, the Hyacinth Chen Crystal Court, in honour of his mother.
“Identify a role model, kneel at that individual’s feet and ask them how they became successful and don’t ever put your fingerprint on the recipe for you can only do so when you are more successful that the role model. They are powerful catalysts in raising confidence, enthusiasm and the energy level of an entire generation.”
Lee-Chin’s mentor was American business magnate, investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffet, whose net worth is some $39 billion.
The executive chairman of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica and chairman of Portland Holdings, Lee-Chin reminded the graduates they have to be prepared to take risks, make bold moves, be principled and have perseverance in order to be successful.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,” he said. “Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not and education alone will certainly not because the world is filled with educated derelicts…Make big plans and aim high in hope and work.”
As Chancellor, Lee-Chin will be a member of the Board of Governors and Senate and will serve on the Senate’s honorary degree committee and the Board development committee. He will also preside over graduation ceremonies and will officially bestow all degrees and diplomas.
Lee-Chin is the second Jamaican-born chancellor of a Canadian university following Dr. Raymond Chang who was elevated to the position at Ryerson University five years ago.
Accompanied by his mother, Violet Blake and seven-year-old son Landon, Lewis said he was happy to be back in his “old backyard” to receive the prestigious accolade.
“It’s with pride and humility that I accept this award and I can think of no other place to accept it than a place where I grew up,” said the Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute sports star who helped the school win the 1983 provincial hoops crown. “I used to play basketball here on weekends because I wanted to be a better player, and to do that, you had to play against better opponents.”
Lewis, who also wrestled and competed in football and track and field in high school, said he chose boxing because it was the first sport that provided him with an opportunity to travel overseas.
After winning gold medals for Canada in the super heavyweight division at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and the Seoul Olympics two years later, Lewis went on to become king of the heavyweight division, winning 41 of his 44 professional fights with 32 knockouts before hanging up the gloves seven years ago.
As a professional fighter, Lewis said he was determined not to be plagued by drugs, alcohol, bad management and bankruptcy – a fate that befell many boxers.
“I armed myself with knowledge to avoid those pitfalls and I became my own promoter and manager,” he said. “That was great because I obviously kept most of the money to myself. There was no need for me to share it because I was the only one stepping into the ring.”
While proud of his pugilistic accomplishments that led to membership in the Order of Canada and his being named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility a year later, Lewis said helping disadvantaged young people and others less fortunate is more rewarding and uplifting.
Shortly after his retirement, the Harry Jerome Award winner established the Lennox Lewis Foundation that’s dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged children and their families in Canada, Jamaica, England and the United States.
“I felt it was very important to give back,” he said. “I asked myself what was my life’s purpose, what I enjoyed doing and what gives me the most pleasure? Giving back does and I love the fact that young mothers and fathers thank me for making a difference in the lives of their children.”
An avid chess player, 46-year-old Lewis lives with his wife, former Miss Jamaica USA and 2002 Miss Jamaica Universe runner-up, Violet Chang – who is expecting next month – and their three children in Miami Beach.