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John LEONG Chi Yan




John LEONG Chi Yan

Doctor of Science
honoris causa

Professor John Leong Chi Yan is one of Hong Kong's most eminent medical practitioners who has also proved himself as a first rate administrator. As an alumnus of this University, we can properly take great pride in his achievements. Indeed his loyalty and dedication to education in general and this University in particular have been outstanding.

Having studied at St Joseph's College, John followed the example of his father and elder brother, our illustrious Chairman of Council Dr CH Leong, in deciding to pursue a career in medicine. He graduated from The University of Hong Kong with an MBBS degree in 1965 and immediately joined the University teaching staff as an Assistant Lecturer.

In wondrous manner he rose through the ranks to attain the position of Chair Professor at the very early age of thirty-eight. He served as Head of Department for a record twenty-three years from 1981 until 2003, at the same time assuming the onerous positions of Dean of the Medical Faculty for six years and Director of the School of Postgraduate Medical Education and Training for a further six years. Indeed, save for a short period of three years during which he undertook a period of clinical and research training at the University of Oxford, he was continuously employed by his alma mater for thirty-eight years.

When asked why he chose to remain in academia for so long when greater material benefits might be gained in private practice, John replied that he derived great satisfaction from academic life because he could devote his attentions to very complicated medical problems and carry out cutting-edge clinical research without the distractions which inevitably attend upon private practice with its emphasis on providing a cost-effective service to the public. He also enjoyed the stimulation and challenge of teaching and research in the context of his vibrant and rapidly developing medical speciality in a Faculty enjoying ever increasing success and recognition.

Under his wise and dynamic leadership the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery enjoyed a period of remarkable growth and prosperity. Concomitant with a significant growth in teaching members, the clinical service offered to the public by his department vastly expanded to include divisions of Spinal Surgery, Paediatric Orthopaedics, Hand and Foot Surgery, Trauma, Joint Replacement Surgery, Sports Injuries and Oncology. He spearheaded an ambitious departmental programme in basic research, including biomechanics, biomaterials, molecular biology and genetics. His own research also flourished. His particular interest and expertise lay in the surgical treatment of severe spinal deformities resulting from poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, congenital malformation and other diseases, pioneering difficult surgical techniques, and he published widely in these areas with more than thirty monographs and more than 200 papers.

He was soon recognised as a star in his field gaining outstanding international acclaim. In 2001 he was elected as Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences being the first and one of only two Hong Kong clinicians to receive this honour. He has served on the editorial boards of more than twenty journals and is a much sought after speaker. Indeed he has traversed the globe many times being an invited speaker in North America on seventeen occasions (including the Universities of Stanford and Toronto), Europe on twenty-five occasions (including Imperial College London), Australia and New Zealand on thirteen occasions, Asia on eighty-seven occasions, Mainland China on forty-seven occasions, the Middle East on ten occasions and Africa twice. I wish I had his air miles!

Looking back upon his lengthy service to this University John observed that HKU's Medical Faculty has enjoyed a remarkable history of loyal and devoted teachers who not only served the University until retirement but in several instances well beyond retirement.

John has also devoted considerable time and effort to medical administration. He has served the community as President of the Hong Kong Orthopaedic Association, President of the Hong Kong Physiotherapy Association, President of the Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association, President of the Hong Kong College of Orthopaedic Surgeons and Chairman of the Hospital Governing Committee for Castle Peak Hospital. He is especially proud to have served a term as President of the Société Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopaedique et de Traumatologie, the global orthopaedic association with membership of more than 100 nations. Although the association was founded in Belgium as early as 1929, he is the only ethnic Chinese doctor to have held the Presidency.

In recognition of his stellar services to the community in general and to medical education in particular John was awarded an OBE in 1996 and a Silver Bauhinia Star in 2009.

Sadly in 2003 John left this University; not, however, to take up well earned retirement but to take on a new challenge as President of the Open University of Hong Kong. To this post he has brought his customary dedication and enthusiasm. Under his leadership the Open University has both consolidated its important role of providing distance learning tertiary education for working men and women and undertaken a new role in offering face to face full-time degree programmes for secondary school leavers with an impressive present enrolment of 5,500 students. This is, of course, in addition to the University's student population of 19,000. John is also committed to an ambitious plan to transform most of the University's programmes into a blended teaching mode which combines the advantages of distance learning, face to face learning and e-learning.

He has also seen a significant expansion of the University's campus with the construction of a new twelve-storey building in 2008. As the University is self-financing, he has made strenuous and very successful efforts to attract external funds by way of donations and planning is presently underway to build a new college, on a recently-acquired plot of land offered by the Education Bureau, to offer three new programmes relating to the six "crucial industries" identified by the Chief Executive.

He tells me that leading a distance learning institution involves special challenges and that doubts are sometimes expressed about the effectiveness of distance learning. To these skeptics he replies that modern distance learning techniques involving carefully prepared course materials, case studies, guided reading materials, face to face tutorials, e-mail communications with tutors and closely monitored exit standards should leave no-one in doubt that distance learning serves a very important role in the totality of education.

Mr Pro-Chancellor, John Leong has faced and conquered many challenges. He tells me that he is an optimist and realist, qualities that have guided and strengthened him in his outstanding career. I am sure that he would agree with the words of Winston Churchill:

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty".

I believe these sentiments are very much the essence of John Leong. We are very proud of him.

Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to present to you Professor John Leong Chi Yan for the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator of the University. 

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