Very early in their working relationship that turned into a lasting friendship, business partner Bill Holland was exposed to Ray Chang’s trademark modesty and generosity.
Just a few weeks after meeting in January 1989 at Universal Savings Canadian Fund Equity Ltd. that became CI Financial, the mutual fund company hired a mailroom clerk – 19-year-old Roy Ratnavel – who had arrived in Canada 10 months earlier from war-torn Sri Lanka.
Without any family support in a new country and a high school diploma, the newcomer used the mailroom after work to study. That was where he met Chang, who taught him Math and a year later provided the young man with a cheque to buy furniture for a new apartment he rented after sharing space with five people in a small room.
Eulogizing Chang last Saturday at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Holland said what the deceased did for Ratnavel stands out for him as his true legacy.
“Ray’s kindness taught a young kid that the world is not necessarily a bad place,” said Holland, who is CI Financial’s chairman and director. “He helped turned Roy into a ridiculously successful, educated and very proud Canadian who is still at CI to this day.”
Ratnavel, whose father was killed in the civil war three days after his son arrived in Canada as a refugee, is the company’s senior vice-president of sales & marketing.
“I see proof of Ray’s kindness all the time when Roy offers his support to young people,” said Holland. “What set Ray apart from anybody I have ever known was that he was genuinely nice and the generous things he did for people he came into contact with that nobody would ever know. In a world with so many rich and famous people, Ray lived his life being generous and anonymous.
“Giving his time and money was not a conscious choice at all. It was in fact his duty that was fulfilled with grace, dignity and humility. He never really did feel comfortable asking other people to do what for him was just a duty.”
Chang, who was appointed to the Order of Canada last month, died three weeks ago in hospital.
Diagnosed with leukemia, he underwent a bone marrow transplant from his younger brother, Joseph, last October. However, he suffered a relapse last month.
Joining CI in 1984 as vice-president and chief operating officer, Chang was promoted to president and chief operating officer a decade later when the company had its initial public offering and became a publicly traded entity. He became chief executive officer in 1996.
Chang, who provided hundreds of immigrants with job opportunities at CI, served as chairman of the board of directors from 1999 to 2010 and was a director at the time of his death.
During his tenure as the president and chief executive officer, CI Financial’s assets grew from $5 million to $100 billion.
Holland said that while Chang was a highly successful businessman, his crowning achievement was his six-year reign as Ryerson University’s chancellor.
He attended close to 30 classes annually, presided over 95 convocations and awarded some 3,000 degrees and diplomas to successful graduates from 50 classes at the university, which bestowed an honorary degree on him nine years ago.
“What a perfect fit,” said Holland. “A Chinese Jamaican so painfully devoted to education linked with an up-and-coming inner city university that serves very many new Canadians. The minute he took that job and we started talking, he so quickly moved into how he would go to classes to get the experience of the students, professors and teachers. He loved to talk about that and how adults would work all day and then go to school at night to earn a degree and diploma and improve their skills.
“He didn’t want this job for prestige. He could care less as we all know. He poured his heart and soul into it. Ray’s view was simple. You teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Fishing was an education.”
Although he donated millions of dollars, Chang was frugal on himself to the point that he preferred a Winners label suit to a tailored outfit and Comfort Inn hotels over five-star lodging.
“He didn’t believe in spending on himself,” said Holland.
Rev. Luc Amoussou said Chang will be remembered as a true lover of the human person.
“He raised the hope of many to dream big and high,” he said. “The greatest joy for him will be to see us carry on his legacy of lifelong learning by investing in whatever we can to promote equal opportunity to all through education.”
One of 12 siblings, Chang fathered two children – Andrew Chang and Brigette Chang-Addorisio, who was amazed that her father – a man who was quiet and reserved – touched so many lives in his 65 years.
Fighting back tears, she spoke about the lessons he taught his children and his evolution as a father.
“You all know him in different capacities, but my brother and I simply knew him as dad,” said Chang-Addorisio in her eulogy. “Our dad was intrinsically cool for lack of a better term and the kids in our neighbourhood were fascinated by a Chinese man with a thick Jamaican accent. He had an incredible work ethic and an extraordinary brain. Through his example, he taught Andrew and me that perseverance was the key to success. However, despite his business schedule, he would still manage to find time to sit with us and watch the Sunday Disney movie. He loved cartoons.”
Chang-Addorisio reminded everyone that her father was an advocate for lifelong education.
“He instilled us with the belief that with education, the possibilities were endless,” she said. “He didn’t accept mediocrity.”
She added that he taught his children how to appreciate nature through camping, fishing and bird hunting trips and he was a doting grandfather to her two children, Savanna and Lucas.
Close to 800 people from all walks of life, including mayoral candidate, John Tory; entrepreneur, Michael Lee-Chin; associate minister of finance, Mitzie Hunter; former Liberal Member of Parliament, Alan Tonks; retired provincial politician, Mary Anne Chambers; community stalwart, Bromley Armstrong and Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Sheldon Levy filled the church to remember Chang, whose goodwill and philanthropy knew no bounds.
Just under four years ago, he donated $7 million to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH).
“That was a phenomenal philanthropic investment that Ray made in CAMH,” said Stuart McBurnie, who is the organization’s director of stewardship. “As a result of his incredible generosity, we have been able to create a world-class imaging centre which is allowing research into discovering causes and treatment for mental health illnesses and addictions.”
The University Health Network’s Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong Centre for Excellence in Education & Practice of General Internal Medicine, which is dedicated to improving medical education at the bedside through innovation and scholarship, has also been the beneficiary of Chang’s benevolence.
“Ray was a trusted friend, visionary and a believer in people,” said family friend Dr. Ho Ping Kong, who was mentored by Chang’s father in Jamaica. “After spending 10 years in Montreal, I reconnected with Ray shortly after coming to Toronto in 1984. In the last decade, I learned many things from him, including how to be more innovative and creative, venture capitalism and risk-taking.”
Chang also sponsored the development of a collaborative initiative between the School of Nursing at the UWI Mona campus and the Ray Chang School of Continuing Education, that resulted in more than 350 individuals getting nursing degrees and becoming nurses across more than 16 Caribbean countries, and provided significant sums to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute to start a seeding nursery to produce seedlings for distribution to farmers planting on reclaimed bauxite lands, Ryerson University to support continuing education, the Royal Ontario Museum and his alma mater, St. George’s College.
“Ray was a gentle giant with a kindness of heart and extraordinary humility who got good things done for people,” said close friend, Gord Cressy. “He was a gift to the people of Jamaica, who in return provided a gift to Canada and for all of us. He was my hero and a role model without equal who treated everybody the same. He was indeed a rare breed.”
When the University of the West Indies (UWI), which conferred an honorary doctorate on Chang two years ago, 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.
“You are never forgotten until the last person calls your name,” said UWI chancellor Sir George Alleyne who attended the funeral with the university’s chief fundraiser, Elizabeth Buchanan-Hind. “Not only will the current generation of students, but future generations at our university will call his name. He will always be remembered at the UWI for his graciousness and generosity, not only with his financial contributions, but the extent to which he supported what we stand for. He was a great friend of the university.”
Chang also funded a chair in special medicine at the UWI and was a consultant to the Jamaican government that conferred him with the Order of Jamaica, the country’s fourth-highest honour.
He is among a select group of people to be awarded the Order of Canada and Jamaica. Others include the late Nelson Mandela, who is an honorary member of both and Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman elected to a Canadian provincial legislature.
Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Gender Affairs spokesperson, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, attended the funeral.
“Ray was awarded the Order of Jamaica under our administration,” she said. “We felt he truly deserved it because of his extraordinary body of work and benevolence that have benefitted so many. While Canada was his home, he never lost touch with Jamaica. He lived a good life and served both Canada and Jamaica very well.”
Damion Crawford, Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism & Entertainment who was in Toronto for the Jamaican Canadian Association’s 52nd independence anniversary gala, also appeared at the mass to celebrate Chang’s extraordinary life.
“Ray was one of our chief marketers and ambassadors,” said Crawford, a friend of Chang’s Jamaica-based sister, Thalia Lyn, who is an entrepreneur and licensed Canadian stockbroker.
In addition to his children, Chang is survived by his wife, Donette Chin-Loy.