Citations and Speeches


130th Congregation (1987)

LEE Wing Tat

The Public Orator, Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, MA, DPhil, wrote and delivered the following citation:

Lee Wing Tat was bom into a large family in 1927. His father, Lee Hysan, had two houses on Kennedy Road where they all lived - his six brothers, his seven sisters, and a younger sister, and the four mothers.

Mr. Chancellor, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote,

"la plus ancienne de toutes les societe's, et la seule naturelle, est celle de la famille". The most ancient form of human society, and its only natural form, is that of the family.

But Rousseau also recognized the elements of convention and discipline to which the members of a family must consent if they are to remain together. Mr. Lee remembers his large family as a harmonious one, a harmony achieved in part by discipline. If elder brother said: 'Do not pick the fruit from the tree', you did not pick it. Yet from the first, while respecting this rule, Lee Wing Tat also nourished independence of mind. When the war came, the boy Wing Tat and other members of his family made the long journey by road to Chongqing in Sichuan province. This he remembers as one of the happiest periods of his life.

After the war, he completed his secondary education at Ling Ying Middle School, and the time came to pursue further studies. In spite of the tradition of obedience to elders, Lee Wing Tat quietly persisted in his ambition to go to the United States, instead of following the family tradition of going to Britain for this purpose. In the event, as a result of the intervention of his mother, he went to the University of Boston in 1950, where he took his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, concentrating on studies relating to small businesses.

On his return to Hong Kong, Lee Wing Tat soon demonstrated the worth not only of these studies, but of his own talents. He was a direct of the family enterprise, the Lee Hysan Development Company. But he side-stepped the family business, again showing his independence of mind and his enterprise, and bought a company called Spa Food Products, with a $100,000 loan from a bank. Spa Food Products at that time was losing HK$1.2 million a year. The young businessman chose to try his hand at turning it round. He quickly got to the bottom of one main problem, which was poor stock control: only half of the returned empties were getting back into the inventory!

Working with his brother Harold, he not only turned Spa Food Products round, but obtained the franchise for 7-Up. A new company was set up for production, the General Bottling Company, while Spa handled distribution. After two years, the company was back in the black and in 1970, Spa was merged into the General Bottling Company, which went public, with a successful share issue based on healthy annual profits of over HK$4 million. This success, earned by his independent talent, his own work and application, rather than the support of the family fortunes, earned Mr. Lee the nickname Chat-Hei!

Mr. Chancellor, while still an undergraduate student, Mr. Lee began to suffer severe arthritic pains as a result of ankylosing spondylitis. This crippling disease was unhappily only one of a series of misfortunes touching Mr. Lee's health. He became diabetic, he suffered a stroke resulting in partial paralysis. He had to go to Oxford for serious orthopaedic surgery. He underwent a serious lung operation. He suffered severely from gastric ulceration. He fractured his spine in a fall.

Mr. Chancellor, few human beings have suffered such severe and multiple health problems, and yet remained so active and cheerful as Lee Wing Tat. He ran his business as Managing Director until 1971, and retained control for a further ten years. Even after he sold the company to Yeong Hip Sing of Singapore in 1981, he accepted the pressing request of the new owner to remain on the board of directors. Even during his frequent stays in hospital, he can usually be seen busy on the telephone, keeping in touch with business affairs worldwide.

More striking yet, as the personal problems which Mr. Lee has faced became worse, his concern for the well-being and development of others became more and more pronounced. His charitable donations, Mr. Chancellor, especially for the purposes of education and medical research, are so numerous that I cannot list them all for you today. They amount to many tens of millions of dollars, and include, among other things, in this University alone, support for an exchange programme between medical students in the Universities of Hong Kong and of Oxford; a postgraduate exchange programme with Boston University; various funds in memory of K.P. Stephen Chang, including a loan fund to help needy medical students; funds to support research and education in cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, nephrology and orthopaedic surgery; substantial library funds. Similar extensive donations have been made to the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Other donations include support of medical research and education at the Universities of Boston and Washington; funding for the Kwong Wall Hospital Neurosurgical Unit, the Grantham Hospital, the Duchess of Kent Children's Orthopaedic Hospital, the Hong Kong Nurses' Association, the Buddhist Tai Kwong High School, Caritas, the Cheung Chau Home for the Aged, the Hawaii Heart Association, the Wah Yan Post-secondary Trust Fund; the funding of a professorial Chair in Law at the Loyola University of Chicago; support for the Cannossian Kindergarten, the MacLehose Medical Rehabilitation Centre, as well as direct support for individual medical research.

Mr. Chancellor, every item on this list represents not just the signing of one or more substantial cheques, but represents the detailed care which Mr. Lee has shown for others. Long ago, Aristotle wrote: "When someone bears misfortune well, not through lack of feeling, but in nobility and greatness of spirit, the good shines through".

Mr. Chancellor, for his contribution to the development of higher learning, and of medical education in particular, I present to you Lee Wing Tat, sprung from a well-known Hong Kong family but friend of the ordinary man, businessman and philanthropist, one who respects his elders but has his own mind, one who has suffered much but given much, benefactor of this University and of many other individuals and institutions, noble in spirit, entrepreneur through whom the good shines, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.

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