Generosity is most rewarding as philanthropist Ray Chang found out last week when he was conferred with the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada.
The self-effacing immigrant, who has donated millions of dollars to Canadian and Caribbean charities and causes, graciously acknowledged the national honour established in 1967 to coincide with the centennial celebrations of Canadian confederation.
“It’s the highest accolade and most humbling award I have received,” said Chang, the 2010 Outstanding Philanthropist of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Toronto chapter). “I am positive there are many who are more deserving than I am, however.”
Chang’s leadership in the world of philanthropy is exemplary.
So moved was Chang by a visit to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health a few years ago that he donated $7 million to the institution’s foundation for research and education. He has also contributed millions to Ryerson University to support continuing education, the University Health Network’s Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong Centre for Excellence in Education & Practice of General Internal Medicine and the Royal Ontario Museum.
His altruism has extended to the Caribbean, and in particular Jamaica, where he was born 65 years ago.
Seven years ago, he gave close to $750,000 to cover the first three years of a program with Ryerson that that enables Caribbean nursing students to pursue higher education through distance learning. He also provided significant sums in 2006 to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute to start a seeding nursery to produce seedlings for distribution to farmers planting on reclaimed bauxite lands.
In addition, Chang has made numerous donations to his alma mater, St. George’s College, and provided jobs for immigrants, many of them Jamaicans, at CI Financial which he joined in 1984 as vice-president and chief operating officer.
In 2010, he stepped down from an active role in the company where he remains a director.
“I am Hakka Chinese by culture, Jamaican by birth and now more importantly Canadian by choice,” said Chang who, through his privately owned company, is active in the development of hydrogen fuel cells, medical diagnostic devices and equipment and private wireless networks. “Canada has been very good to me and my family. This country has given us a lot and the least I can do is give back in an attempt to make it a better place.”
When the University of the West Indies needed help from the Diaspora community to raise funds to provide scholarships for students, Chang stood up and assumed the role of patron of the UWI Toronto Benefit Gala which has raised nearly $1 million over the last five years.
Chang, who is the patron for Food for the Poor Canada and a supporter of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE), said his father Gladstone and paternal grandfather, Chang Chin Sang (Joseph), taught him about generosity.
“They were always ready and willing to offer a helping hand,” he said. “So, I don’t contribute for recognition. “I give because it’s the correct thing to do.”
Maisie Chang could be credited for her son’s astute business acumen.
He helped her manage a staff of about 60 at Consolidated Bakeries, which sold fruitcake throughout Jamaica, before going to the United States to pursue engineering studies.
After a year south of the border, he came to Toronto in 1967 to continue his studies at the University of Toronto.
“It was a lot cheaper in Canada plus there were six of us in university at the time,” said Chang who sits on the board of Grace Kennedy & Company Ltd. and is a major shareholder in Walkerswood Caribbean Foods and Corpak Jamaica Ltd. “The intent then was not necessarily to stay abroad because there were established family businesses back in Jamaica that I could have gone back to. But one thing led to another and here I am still in this wonderful city.”
A chartered accountant, he ran a furniture store in the Jane & Finch community and served as a management consultant before purchasing significant shares in CI.
In 2006, Chang became the first Caribbean-born national to serve as ceremonial head of a Canadian university when he was installed as Ryerson’s chancellor.
In his six years in the position, he attended nearly 30 classes annually, presided over 95 convocations, awarded nearly 3,000 degrees and diplomas to successful graduates from 50 classes at the university which bestowed an honorary degree on him nine years ago.
A former special consultant to the Jamaican government, Chang also holds an honorary degree from the University of the West Indies where he funded a chair in family medicine and the Order of Jamaica, that country’s fourth highest honour.
In 2012, Chang was the recipient of the Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs’ Lifetime Achievement Award for providing money, time and knowledge to philanthropic pursuits.
“One of the things I admire most about Ray is that he keeps it real,” said his wife, Donette Chin-Loy. “Though he has walked with kings, he has never lost the common touch.”
By RON FANFAIR