Citations and Speeches


173rd Congregation (2006)

Vivienne POY
Senator, PhD, Degree of Doctor of Laws

The Public Orator, Dr Elaine Yee-lin Ho, wrote and delivered the following citation:

In Hong Kong's modern history, many Chinese people who were born here went on to achieve international recognition and renown, and continued to maintain strong family and community ties locally. One of these people for whom Hong Kong is the natal home, and in whom Hong Kong can be justifiably proud, is our distinguished graduand, Vivienne Poy.

Vivienne Poy was born into a family with a long history of contributing to Hong Kong. She is the daughter of the late Richard Charles Lee of Hysan Estates, and in her own right, the owner of a successful fashion business, the holder of a doctoral degree in history, and a writer who has published three books in Canada and Australia. Talented, energetic, and public-spirited, Vivienne Poy is a daughter of Hong Kong and an eminent citizen of Canada. She is the first Canadian of Asian descent appointed to the Canadian Senate, and is currently the elected Chancellor of the University of Toronto. In her work promoting gender equality and human rights both at community level and internationally, she is also an exemplary citizen of the world.

Early in life, Vivienne Poy learnt from her father the sense of responsibility to promote the well-being of others less fortunate than herself. This is a family and personal commitment which she kept in mind even as she forged her own career. After graduating from McGill University in Canada, she decided first to cultivate her interests in art and design by taking a Diploma course in Fashion Arts. With this preparation, she started her own fashion business which flourished for fourteen years. Her designs were not merely production numbers; they were labours of love, expressing her own superb taste and commitment to quality and craftsmanship.

Established in her own business, Vivienne Poy did not forget her social responsibility, and the need to repay the country which is her adopted home. She involved herself in a number of cultural and philanthropic causes in Toronto, Ontario, and across Canada including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Stage Company, the Kidney Foundation, and she is a major contributor to the Scarborough General Hospital's capital campaign. At the same time, she also promoted the interests of the Chinese communities, actively contributing to the Chinese Cultural Centres of Greater Toronto and Vancouver, and the Chinese Canadian Heritage Fund.

Like many philanthropists of Chinese origin, Mrs Poy is a strong believer in education. She established undergraduate scholarships and post-graduate fellowships at the University of Toronto and McGill University. In the Canadian context, she believes that a knowledge of Chinese tradition and culture is crucial to the building of a multicultural society. To this end, she established Chairs in Chinese thought and culture at the two universities. She is also tireless in her work to foster understanding among the ethnic communities in Canada, and is frequently invited by the different communities to speak of intercultural relations. Through her community involvement, she showed how individual citizens can make a difference in helping to realize the project of multiculturalism. She has been Advisor and Patron to the Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, the Montreal Accès Asie Festival, Canadian Multicultural Council, and the Memorial Committee for Jewish War Veterans.

In education as in social activism, Mrs Poy leads by personal example. In the late nineteen nineties, she decided to pursue doctoral studies in history at the University of Toronto. Her thesis, completed in 2003, is entitled "Calling Canada Home: Canadian Law and Immigrant Chinese Women from South China and Hong Kong 1860-1990". It brought together Canada, China, and Hong Kong, the places and cultures of her affiliation, and the detailed craftsmanship evident in her fashion designs is equally visible in her historical writing. As she pursued her doctorate, she also wrote two books, one on the thousand-year genealogy of the Lee family called A River Named Lee, and a second on the life and times of her father, Richard Charles Lee, which is also a narrative of Hong Kong in the twentieth century. A third book, published in Australia, is based on Dr Poy's doctoral thesis, and on the lectures she delivered at the University of Wollongong as Nortel Networks' Canadian Studies lecturer. With her publication record, Dr Poy would surely be designated "active researcher" in our current Research Assessment Exercise. I earlier referred to Vivienne Poy's election to the Chancellorship of the University of Toronto. This congregation might wish to take note of the very remarkable, perhaps even unique, fact that she received her doctorate at the same ceremony where she was installed as Chancellor.

Dr Poy is certainly a pioneer in her 1998 appointment as the first Canadian Senator of Chinese and Asian ancestry. As Senator, she has been vocal and effective in promoting gender equality, human rights, Chinese and Asian affairs, and youth entrepreneurship. She has organized activities where young people from different ethnic communities can interact and work together for she strongly believes that it is in the young that a harmonious multicultural society can prevail. Remembering her Chinese roots in Hong Kong, Senator Poy has travelled the world giving lectures about the generations of Canadian Chinese who have struggled amidst great prejudice and hardship to establish themselves and achieve recognition. As an historian and a public servant, she is humble in the face of her predecessors' achievements, and proud that she herself has now succeeded in their footsteps. Her example is not only a model to her Chinese Canadian contemporaries, but an inspiration to globally migrant subjects of Chinese ancestry, each in their adopted homelands.

Mr Chancellor, for her contribution to promoting gender equality and human rights, and to intercultural and international understanding, it is my honour and privilege to present Vivienne Poy for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.