By RON FANFAIR
Whenever Darius Sookram is on Ryerson’s campus, he plans to sit on the bench in the university’s park, also known as The Quad, which was unveiled last week to memorialize former chancellor Raymond Chang who died two years ago.
Sookram, who is a member of the university’s alumni board of governors and the alumni association board of directors, said Chang was a role model and mentor.
A decade ago, the astute businessman and philanthropist became the first Caribbean-born national to serve as ceremonial head of a Canadian university.
In his six years as chancellor, Chang 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 11 years ago.
“When I came to the university in 2006, I met Ray through my association with the West Indian Student Association,” said Trinidadian-born Sookram who has an undergraduate degree in political science and a Master’s in public policy & administration.
“He was very approachable and open and there was a group of us that referred to him as ‘the giant gummy bear’,” said Sookram. “He was just a sweet, humble, giving and good person despite his achievements and high-profile status. Ray and his wife Donette are a big part of Ryerson and it’s great that that university has done something like this to honour his legacy. Those that he touched like me will greatly appreciate sitting on this bench.”
Ryerson’s president and vice-chancellor, Mohamed Lachemi, said the memorial bench is a fitting tribute.
“This is a perfect place for the bench because Ray was all about students,” he said. “He would often visit classes, ask questions, participate in discussions and observe students learning. He went to classes in every discipline, including fashion and dance. He was a man of great accomplishments matched with great humility and that’s why he connected so well with everybody here. After he died, I read many of the online tributes and what stood out for me was how he touched so many lives on this campus. He was all about Ryerson, all about learning and all about students. He just had a powerful presence that resonated with our community. I am so proud we have this lasting legacy of Ray.”
Former Mount Sinai Hospital chairman and philanthropist, Lawrence Bloomberg, succeeded Chang as Ryerson’s chancellor in 2012.
“Before succeeding him, I sought his advice,” said Bloomberg who first met Chang almost 25 years ago. “When I look back on Ray and any one of my encounters with him, I will always remember him as someone who was very smart and charming with a twinkle in his eyes. He loved students, he loved education and he loved the innovation engendered at Ryerson. Ray always had big thoughts and I think this bench will memorialize the things he believed in. Hopefully, others will follow and sit here and have big thoughts like he would have had and help build the university.”
Chang’s daughter, Brigette Chang-Addorisio and her husband, Anthony Addorisio, along with their children, seven-year old Savanna and five-year-old Lucas, attended the dedication ceremony.
She said Ryerson was an integral part of her father’s life.
“This university meant a lot to him,” said Chang-Addorisio. “It really spoke to his fundamental values of education and lifelong learning and helping people to better themselves.”
The memory of Chang is also kept alive at Ryerson through the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education – Canada’s foremost provider of university-based adult education – that was launched in 2005.