Photo: Milton Wong left us with so much

(Credit: United Way of the Lower Mainland via Flickr)

By David Suzuki

Milton Wong was truly one of the good guys. A successful businessman who generously believed in using his wealth and success to build better communities and a better world, Milton was loved and respected in Vancouver and beyond. Milton Wong died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday, just before New Year's Eve, surrounded by family and friends. He was 72.

Death waits for all of us, but it came far too soon for Milton Wong. His life was a classic story of new Canadian families, working from poverty to financial success through intelligence and hard work. Milton was born in Vancouver to immigrant parents in 1939, and grew up in Chinatown with eight siblings. He graduated from UBC in 1963 with a degree in political science and economics. After working in finance for many years, Milton Wong started the financial management company M.K. Wong and Associates in 1980. He sold the company to HSBC in 1996 and then worked for HSBC Asset Management (Canada) Ltd.

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Having achieved wealth, Milton proceeded to share it to further the causes he believed in. I was always impressed by his understanding that community and personal well-being are critical for a truly rich and sustainable society. His ethnic background and experience were an intimate part of his activities and the causes he supported. When he spoke about the importance of the environment, he never saw it as something separate from issues of social justice and democracy. It's no surprise that he was deeply concerned with First Nations in Canada. He worked on many projects to establish connections between businesses and First Nations and helped with First Nations land claims agreements, including the historic Nisga'a Treaty in 1998.

Among his many other achievements, he started several medical-services companies, founded the portfolio management program at UBC's Sauder School of Business, worked on urban renewal projects in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and created the economic and social policy think tank the Laurier Institution as well as the International Dragon Boat Festival. He also served as chancellor of Simon Fraser University from 1999 to 2005. He was named to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and supported charitable causes ranging from the Red Cross to the B.C. Cancer Foundation. He was also a good friend to the David Suzuki Foundation, offering us support and even criticism when it was warranted.

He loved the ocean and supported work to restore the productivity and abundance that existed in Georgia Strait only a few decades ago. Everything he did, whether supporting dragon boat racing, serving as chancellor of SFU or creating an ecologically designed garden and house on Quadra Island, he did with panache and passion. Milton's concern for the environment also lives on in his niece, Joanna Wong, who has strong ties with environmental groups in Canada and China and is a member of the David Suzuki Foundation's Climate Council. It has been a privilege to know Milton, his wife Fei, and their three daughters, who have been role models for all of us. His passing is a tragic loss for all of Canada.

January 3, 2012

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