Today we honour a truly remarkable woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the fields of commerce, education, philanthropy and public service in Canada.
Vivienne Poy was born into a prominent Hong Kong family in 1941. Her early years were marked by war and displacement. When she was just three months old Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese, forcing her family to flee to China, where they spent the war years as refugees. Upon returning to Hong Kong after the war, her family resumed a position of influence and service to the community. Vivienne Poy immigrated to Canada in 1959, enrolling at McGill University, where she earned an Honours degree in History and met her future husband, medical student Neville Poy. While raising their three sons, Vivienne Poy developed an interest in fashion and design, which led her to complete a Diploma in Fashion Arts at Seneca College in 1981 and to found her own business, Vivienne Poy Mode, that same year.
What followed was a series of achievements in private and public life that is nothing short of astonishing. Vivienne Poy has enjoyed tremendous success as a fashion designer, entrepreneur and corporate director. Currently she is President of Vivienne Poy. Enterprises, President of Calyan Publishing, Chairwoman of Lee Tak Wai Holdings Ltd. and a member of the Board of the Bank of East Asia (Canada). Dr. Poy is equally prominent as a volunteer and community leader. Among her many voluntary positions, she is an Honorary Board Member of the Kidney Foundation (Ontario), Honorary Advisor to the Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, Honorary Patron of the Chinese Cultural Centres of Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver, as well as the Patron of the Centre for Information and Community Services.
In 1998 Vivienne Poy was appointed to the Senate of Canada - the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Upper Chamber. Senator Poy has focused her attention on gender issues, multiculturalism and human rights. She was a sponsor of the Famous Five Monuments in Calgary and on Parliament Hill, which honour the five Alberta women who fought to have Canadian women recognized constitutionally as "persons" who were eligible to be named to the Senate. And it was Senator Poy who was primarily responsible for having May recognized as Asian Heritage Month across Canada.
While being a respected business person and prominent Senator are accomplishments enough for most people, Dr. Poy directed her limitless energies in yet another direction. She is a prolific author, historian, public speaker and university leader. Her stunning academic achievements - all conducted while simultaneously running a corporation and serving the public as a volunteer and Senator - are most unusual and impressive. Inspired by the desire to understand her family's past and to preserve the memory of her own people's struggles, Dr. Poy dedicated herself to the intellectual enterprise of historical research and publication. Her first book, A River Named Lee, published in 1995, is about her family and her ancestors. It traces the origins of the family name, Lee, which is shown to come from an ancient river in China called "Lee Sui" near SzeChuan. In Building Bridges: the Life and Times of Richard Charles Lee 1905-1983(1998), Dr. Poy turns her historical talents to an exploration of the life and times of her father, Lee Ming Chak. This book is both a loving biography and an academically impeccable portrait of three-quarters of a century of Hong Kong history. Dr. Poy recently published a third book, Citizenship and Immigration: The Chinese- Canadian Experience (2002), based on her presentation as the first Nortel Networks' Canadian Studies Series lecturer.
As you can see, Senator Poy's interest in history and in academe is not incidental. Indeed, she completed a Master's degree in History at The University of Toronto in 1997 - a university with which she has a special bond. A former member of the University's Governing Council, she received an Arbor Award in 1997 for her outstanding volunteerism to the Uof T. In addition, she played a leading role in establishing both the Richard Charles and Esther Yewpick Lee Chair in Chinese Thought and Culture and the Richard Charles Lee Canada- Hong Kong Library. But nothing compares to the fact that she received two highly distinguished honours from the University, on the same day. Just minutes prior to her official installation as The University of Toronto's 315t Chancellor in June 2003, Senator Poy, a Chinese Canadian immigrant woman, walked across the stage at Convocation Hall to receive her Ph.D in History for a dissertation on Chinese Canadian women immigrants. Surely there can be no other incidence of such an incredible event in the entire annals of the academy.
Dr. Poy has received an enormous number of awards.and honours. To name just a few, she has received four honorary degrees; she was bestowed the Outstanding Asian Canadian Award from the Canadian Multicultural Council, Asians in Ontario; she was recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women, by the Women's Executive Network; she has received an International Women's Day Award as well as a gold medal for her outstanding contributions to the promotion of race relations from Toronto's Human Rights and Race Relations Centre; she has a Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal; and she is an Officer of the Order of St. John.
In spite of all these accolades, Dr. Poy believes that her greatest accomplishment is her close knit family: a husband of over 40 years, Dr. Neville Poy; three sons; and three grandchildren.
As a business leader and Senator, and as Chancellor of The University of Toronto from 2003-2006, Vivienne Poy has inspired young people, women and new immigrants to excel. Moreover, she has shown them the way, by pursuing higher education and by demonstrating leadership in her community. I can think of no finer exemplar of the values the University holds most dear.
Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to ask in the name of the Senate and University of Manitoba that you confer upon The Honourable, Dr. Vivienne Poy the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
-citation delivered by Dr. Richard Sigurdson, Dean, Faculty of Arts