Vancouver financier and philanthropist Milton Wong died nearly two years ago, but his spirit was very much present yesterday at the launch of a new book celebrating his life.
Entitled Spark: The Inspiring Life and Legacy of Milton K. Wong (Greystone Books), it includes essays and vignettes by 28 contributors offering insights into how Wong helped improve our world and unlock the potential in others.
"It was a huge challenge and all of them worked very hard in their busy lives to produce this great book," Wong's widow Fei told the gathering. "Milton had a sparkle in his eye whenever he talked about a new idea or some often inspirational work of art. If he saw a spark in you, he would find a way to help you grow in designing it into a fire."
The launch of Spark was fittingly held at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward's.
Many of the contributors were there, including former premier Mike Harcourt, Canada Public Policy Forum CEO and former MLA David Mitchell, and John DeHart, CEO of Nurse Next Door—a home-care company that Wong chaired.
Wong's daughter Sarah delivered part of one of five speeches by her father in the book.
It was a thoughtful treatise on how a commitment to pluralism was essential in coping with the challenges of climate change.
"Because of the precarious state of our planet, it is quickly becoming apparent to people everywhere that a massive cooperative effort will be needed if we want to rescue our Earth from a devastating tipping point," Wong said in the speech, which was originally presented in 2007. "We will need to put our differences aside and work towards a common purpose. That's why I feel that the challenge of saving the world from climate collapse and other environmental disasters has the potential to soften the cultural differences that once divided us."
The former SFU chancellor's other speeches in the book are equally provocative.
One harkened to the documentary film The Corporation, which likened publicly traded companies to psychopaths, and explored how shareholder activism can push them toward becoming more sustainable.
Another traced the decline of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to the internment of 22,000 Japanese Canadians in 1942. In Wong's view, this sapped the community of its vitality, setting about a downward spiral lasting decades.
Fei Wong revealed that her husband devised Spark well before he became sick with terminal cancer.
She praised her daughter Elizabeth and others for making sure that he had a chance to see how it would look before he died.
"He didn’t have much time," Fei Wong said. "This was his last project. They worked a few long nights and finally brought to him a printed cover and a mock-up of the book. He was so happy. This book is his lasting legacy.”
One of the most moving speeches at the book launch came from DeHart, who was mentored by Wong.
"There's a poem on the front page of our brand guide that describes Nurse Next Door," DeHart said. "Looking at it, it dawned on me that Milton had inspired our whole concept. If you replace 'she' with 'he', it goes like this:
He wears a smile like a favourite T-shirt.
Like any great friend, he does what he says he's going to do.
He's action, not talk. He's light on his toes.
And he has a heart big enough to keep up a country's pulse.
Infusing calm and order into the situation is like breathing to him.
He likes clear conversations.
He's a Love Bandit.
And cooks gourmet meals in his downtimes,
And dispenses them at random, just because.
Milt was our brand. He was Nurse Next Door."
Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Fei and Milton K. Wong Family Foundation. Spark can be purchased through the foundation's website.