Roy Mah memorial service – A Celebration of a life well lived for both country and community

Roy Mah memorial service
– A Celebration of a life well lived for both country and community

Roy Quock Quon Mah
1918 – July 22, 2007

A bagpiper led the procession of war veterans into the David Lam Hall at Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre.  They were all friends and fellow veterans of Sgt. Roy Mah O.B.C., WW2 veteran, founder of Chinatown News, and a strong community leader throughout his life.  During the memorial service, we would be reminded of the many contributions he made to not only Canada, but also his community in Vancouver.

Gary Mar presided over the ceremonies with Fred Mah translating into Chinese.  Gary's father and Roy Mah were cousins.  Gary is now MLA in Alberta.  Fred Mah is a long-time friend of Roy Mah (no relation), and now serves as chair of the Chinatown Re-vitalization Committee's Arts sub-committee.

Wesley Lowe, padre for Chinese Canadian Veterans Pacific Unit 280, helped to begin the program by leading the singing of O Canada.  He then followed with stories about visiting Roy in his apartment over the last few months, and helping Roy to prepare for the transition to the next life that he knew was coming.  Wesley shared with the audience that Roy Mah, found peace with Christianity and was baptized in the days preceding his death.

The Honourable Jason Kenney, Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) was introduced, and while Kenney admitted that he never met Roy personally, he knew him by reputation.  Kenney then spoke about Roy's amazing contributions to Canada, emphasizing that as a young man, Roy led Chinese-Canadians to enlist to fight for Canada as the arguement that eventually they would prove themselves for deserving the francise to vote in the land they were born in.

BC Premier Gordon Campbell was unable to attend, but Richard Lee MLA, took to the stage to speak about Roy's importance to the community. Lee emphasized how Roy Mah helped to pave the way for Canada's multiculturalism that we take for granted today.

There were no City of Vancouver representitves from council as it was an in-council day for them.  But earlier this week, they had proclaimed July 12th to be “Roy Mah Day” in the City of Vancouver.  The proclamation was read to the audience.

Three years ago, Roy Mah's niece Ramona Mar interviewed him for a video project for Canadian Veterans Affairs, which resulted in the video and website titled Heroes Remember. The Roy Mah interview is titled Roy Mah – pillar of the community.  For the memorial service a special 12 minute “director's cut” was prepared by the video produce Claudia Ferris.

My architect cousin Joe Wai, next takes the stage and talks about how Roy was instrumental in forming the vision for building the Chinese Cultural Centre as a social organization, and also for the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens.  Roy was founding directors for both organizations.

Dr. Wallace Chung, was chair of the Chinese Cultural Centre, when the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens and the CCC David Lam Hall both opened in 1986.  Dr. Chung talked about growing up in Victoria where Roy Mah was always a leader in any group he was in – even in elementary and high school.

Col. Howe Lee told how Sgt. Roy Mah was in charge of soldiers during WW2.  Chinese weren't allowed to be officers back then. An officer with the same responsibilities that Sgt. Roy Mah had would have been a Captain or a Major.  As a military send-off, Col. Lee promoted Roy Mah from sergeant to major, and told him that his orders were to report to the Angel Guard, where he would receive his new equipment of one harp, and two wings – one left, one right.  It was a touching moment, and there were tears in many people's eyes.

To close the service, a trumpet player played Reville.  Padre Wesley Lowe led the singing of God Save the Queen. And the bag piper played a lament as the members and friends of Pacific Unit 280 walked out of the hall, in tribute to their dear friend and comrade – Roy Mah.

It was an amazing service.  And in recalling the events, there are still tears in my eyes.  They are happy tears.  My own contacts with Roy were late in his life, really beginning after as part of Asian Canadian Writer's Workshop, we honoured Roy with the inaugural ACWW Community Builder's Award.  After this whenever he would walk into the Vancouver Public Library and see me at the information desk, he would also come over for a short chat.  As a child I remember looking through issues of Chinatown News and being excited at recognizing anybody I knew in the stories or pictures – never thinking that I would one day be on the cover in 1993, after I received the SFU Terry Fox Gold Medal. Prior to that I had written some theatre reviews about Rosie's Cafe and Cats for Chinatown News during the 1980's. Now I am going to have to find that issue and scan it into this website.

During the following reception it was great to talk with so many people who all were touched by Roy's legacy.  It both warms me deeply and inspires me, to know that so many of these people are my friends and family.  From the moment I walked into the David Lam Hall today, it felt good to say hello to so many people and friends I respect and admire, such as Professor Edgar Wickberg, my cousins Joe and Hayne Wai, former city councillors Ellen Woodsworth and Tung Chan, Larry Wong, Wesley Lowe, Bev Nann, Gordy Mark, Faye Leung… so many people.

My grand-uncle Victor Wong and his fellow veterans had travelled from Victoria to attend the service.  Immediately they started talking about the GENERATIONS: The Chan Legacy tv documentary that had featured Uncle Victor and myself as descendants of Rev. Chan Yu Tan.  It felt good to know that his friends and family really enjoyed the documentary.  And it also felt good to know that in the documentary Uncle Victor had acknowledged the work of Roy Mah for lobbying politicians to give the franchise vote to Canadians of Chinese descent.

We even had 3 present paddlers from the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team at the memorial service: myself, Art Calderwood and Steven Wong.  Former paddler Elwin Xie was there, and former 2005 honourary drummer Ellen Woodsworth and former 2002 honourary steersperson Joe Wai. Art and I had a good chat about the Chinatown News issues that featured our photos on the cover.  Art appeared on the cover after he had won a national junior tennis tournament at age 16. He soon started receiving invitations to compete in Chinese community tennis tournaments in California, New York and elsewhere.  Such was the wide spread influence of Roy Mah's Chinatown News Magazine.

Now in Roy Mah's Chinatown News tradition, I present pictures from the event.  The social highlight of the week!

Todd Wong with uncles James Wong, Gilbert Wong and father Bill Wong – photo cousin Hayne Wai/Todd's camera
.  My Uncle James is also a WW2  veteran, but he didn't serve with Roy Mah in Unit 136 for Operation Oblivion, as my grand-uncle Victor Wong did in Burma.  Uncle James and his group were sent to Australia, to work their way up the Australiasian archipelago.  He lives in Edmonton, and just happened to come into town this week, and was able to attend Roy's memorial service.

Lt. Cmdr. King Wan, Gary Mar, Fred Mah, Col. Howe Lee – photo Todd Wong
I took a picture of Col. King Wan, Gary Mar, Fred Mah and Col.
Howe Lee – making carefully sure that the OBC picture of Roy Mah was
right in the middle with them….

Lt.Cmdr. King Wan, Todd Wong, Wendy Yuan, Gary Mar, Fred Mah, Col. Howe Lee, Daniel Lee, Ed Lee – photo Claudia Ferris on Todd's camera
. After I took the first picture,  other people liked the idea of having their picture taken in front of  Roy's picture.  Oh, wait… I invited them all to be in this picture with me!  My grand-uncle Dan, and Ed Lee were good friends of Roy Mah.  I wanted to make sure they were in this picture.

Todd Wong with father Bill Wong, Lim Lee and daughter Carol Lee @ Roy Mah memorial service

and Carol both volunteered on the Saltwater City Planning committee
with Ramona Mar.  On opening night Bill Wong introduced his son Todd to
Lim Lee, saying they were related somewhere back in China (Auntie Rose
says that Lim's grandfather and Bill's grandfather were cousins).  Todd
took a picture from Saltwater City opening night with Bill Wong and Lim
Wong leaning on an old car.  That was 21 years ago.

Tung Chan, Colleen Leung, Todd Wong – photo Todd Wong collection
Tung came over to say hi to Todd,
and then discovered his old friend Colleen.  Tung said he really liked the
GENERATIONS: The Chan Legacy tv documentary.  Colleen is also a film-maker and free-lance journalist, but while she had heard about the show, she hadn't seen it yet.  We had a good chat about the importance of encouraging Chinatown pioneer families to share their stories and photographs, using our mutual friend Shirley Chan and the program Mother Tongue as an example.  Colleen wrote the story about Roy Mah's “90th Birthday” celebration for the Globe & Mail.

Tung Chan, Sid Tan, Richard Lee @ Roy Mah memorial service – photo Todd Wong

All of these three men were featured along with Roy Mah as part of the Vancouver Sun's Oct 22,2006 list of 100 most influential Chinese Canadians.  Each was there to acknowledge the life and achievements of Roy Mah.

Arthur Calderwood (son of Douglas Jung) meets Wayne Mah (son of Roy Mah) introduced by Wesley Lowe – photo Todd Wong. Wes introduced Art and Wayne to each other saying that they both had
famous fathers.  Art is Douglas Jung's son, while
Wayne is Roy Mah's son.  They are standing in front of a display
celebrating the 50th anniversary of Douglas Jung's 1957 election to
Canadian Parliament, at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum – where
everybody was invited following the Roy Mah memorial service, which
Wesley presided over as pastor.

Roy Mah display at Chinese Canadian Military Museum – photo Todd Wong

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