By RON FANFAIR
Donette Chin-Loy clearly remembers her first visit to her late husband, Ray Chang’s workplace.
As the president and chief executive officer of CI Financial whose financial assets during his time with the company grew from $5 million to $100 billion, Chang took his wife to the mailroom instead of the boardroom.
“That was the very first place in the building that he took me to because he cared for every employee regardless of their status with the organization,” she recalled. “He believed the staff in the mailroom was just as important as the people in the corporate office. As far as he was concerned, everything started in the mailroom and he felt that was the first place I should see. Though he walked with kings and queens, he never lost the common touch.”
Chang, who was appointed to the Order of Canada earlier this month, died last Sunday after being hospitalized for two weeks.
Diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago, the 65-year-old immigrant underwent a bone marrow transplant from his brother last year. He however suffered a relapse two weeks ago.
The astute businessman and philanthropist died 16 years to the day – July 27 – that Chin-Loy lost her father, record producer Lloyd Chin-Loy.
“Except for the occasions when he would go fishing or hunting, which were his hobbies, or when he went on some business trips, we were always together from the very first time I met him 15 years ago at a St. George’s College social event,” recalled Chin-Loy. “Ray always wanted to meet new people and he was always talking of new ideas. For Ray, no one was too big or small. He treated everyone the same. That’s how I will remember him.”
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, and 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.
“Ray was one of the founders of CI Financial and his work laid the foundation for CI’s strong business today,” said the company’s president and chief executive officer, Stephen MacPhail. “As CEO, he guided CI through its early years as a public company and he continued to be an important member of our leadership team as a member of the board of directors. Ray was a generous and thoughtful man and we will dearly miss his wisdom and grace.”
Flags at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) campuses and Ryerson University, where Chang became the first Caribbean-born national to serve as ceremonial head of a Canadian university when he was installed as chancellor in 2006, are being flown at half-staff in his honour.
In his six years in the position, he attended some 30 classes annually, presided over 95 convocations and awarded close to 3,000 degrees and diplomas to successful graduates from 50 classes at the university which bestowed an honorary degree on him nine years ago.
“Whenever students needed help, Ray was there for them,” said Ryerson’s president, Sheldon Levy. “He put students at the centre of everything that he did with Ryerson. He was excited to be around students and was on campus often, whether sitting in on classes or sharing in the celebration of their achievements. He was always an inspiration and his passing is a tremendous loss for our university and the many thousands of people whose lives Ray touched in his remarkable time with us.”
Dr. Gervan Fearon, the former dean of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson which opened in 2005, is reeling from Chang’s death.
“We have lost an outstanding Canadian and Jamaican and, most of all, a wonderful person,” said Fearon, president and vice-chancellor of Brandon University. “I will remember him for his humanity and contributions to so many people and causes. He 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. It has had a tremendous impact on health outcomes throughout the region. He was a humble man who was deeply optimistic and integrally hopeful.”
Chang’s leadership in the world of philanthropy was exceptional.
In addition to the $750,000 he gave to cover the first three years of the collaborative nursing program, he donated $7 million to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, 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 and 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.
When the UWI 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 close to $1 million over the last five years.
“I was always struck by Ray’s thoughtfulness and his respect for others,” said former provincial Minister Mary Anne Chambers who was the recipient of a vice-chancellor award at the 2013 fundraising gala. “He had a brilliant mind, but he was a truly humble man who generously shared his talents and his successes to make the world a better place.”
The fifth of 12 children, Chang helped his mother – Maisie Chang – manage a staff of about 60 at Consolidated Bakeries, which sold fruitcake throughout Jamaica, before going to the United States to study engineering. After a year south of the border, he came to Toronto in 1967 to continue his studies at the University of Toronto.
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.
Jamaican-born Canadian senator Don Meredith said Chang was an outstanding and accomplished human being.
“He was an exemplary global citizen with a heart of gold who brought energy and conviction to everything he did,” Meredith noted.
A former special consultant to the Jamaican government, Chang also holds an honorary degree from the UWI where he funded a chair in family medicine and the Order of Jamaica, that country’s fourth highest honour.
In 2012, Chang – who through his privately owned company was active in the development of hydrogen fuel cells, medical diagnostic devices and equipment and private wireless networks – was the recipient of the Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs’ Lifetime Achievement Award for providing money, time and knowledge to philanthropic pursuits.
A patron for Food for the Poor Canada and a supporter of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) at the time of his death, Chang sat on the board of Grace Kennedy & Company Ltd. and was a major shareholder in Walkerswood Caribbean Foods and Corpak Jamaica Ltd.
A public funeral for Chang will take place in Toronto next weekend.