Tribute to Kenneth Chung

Tribute to Kenneth Chung

BY DENNIS CHUNG

Friday, August 14, 2020

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Last Sunday, as a I returned from my morning ride, I made a call when I got in the car to check on my father (Kenneth Chung), who wasn't feeling well the night before. I was surprised when I was told that he was being checked into the hospital.

I went to the hospital to see what was happening and after being there awhile, was told to leave and they would call us after running some tests, which would take some time. Approximately TWO hours later, I got a call to say that we should return to the hospital.

Kenneth Chung passed at 4:45 pm, at the age of 84. He was born on February 6, 1936.

I have written many tributes to private and public sector giants, who have made a significant impact on the country, and on me in particular. All helped to shape some attribute I may have picked up, but none was more influential on me than Kenneth Chung. So I thought it would be fitting to do what I always do and write something in his honour.

Being born on Bob Marley's birth date and being Jamaican, and on top of that Chinese, he had a few children, some of them my half-siblings. We all got to know each other at some point in life and are good friends. In addition, he was the oldest of nine children for my grandparents. My grandfather came from China and my grandmother from Jamaica.

Kenneth was the main support of this large group of Chinese-Jamaican descendants in many respects, as he was the driving force behind the success of many in the “pack”.

He and his siblings (nine in all, with two now passing this year) had a challenging childhood, as money was scarce. He never spoke to me about it but my aunts and uncles used to tell me about it. Being the eldest I understand he dropped out of school to work and help support his younger siblings and always emphasised education as the way for them to become successful. He worked to send his siblings to school, and sacrificed his own educational ambitions in many respects so that they could achieve theirs.

His support saw many successes coming out of that bunch. The youngest one (Annemarie) told me, “He carried all of us on his back during the toughest of times as we were growing up”. She eventually earned two degrees and went into business as a manager for entertainers, and became the manager for Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr, and continues to have a very successful career.

Another aunt (Olive) became a very successful and well-known doctor in Florida. And his closest brother was a very successful businessman in Jamaica, who retired in his 50s. He told me on Sunday that my father was his best friend. Similarly, all the others went on to do well in their respective fields, and my cousin, who is the son of one of his sisters, Hue Menzies, was the head coach for the Reggae Girlz and took them to World Cup recently — becoming the first Caribbean female team to get to the World Cup.

All of this could not have happened if Kenneth did not sacrifice his own dreams so that those around him could achieve their own.

He also always emphasised to his children the importance of education and did everything possible to ensure that we went to the best schools. I learned later in life that in order to get the schooling we wanted he borrowed money to do so. Placing himself in debt so that we could have a chance at a future, as he didn't come from a wealthy background and had to work for what he had. But he always believed that education was the main chance we had at success and so invested in it.

My siblings have done relatively well, and the two that are best known publicly are myself and my brother David, who served as chairman of National Water Commission and Housing Agency of Jamaica. I recall in third form, when I was 13, he carried me up to The University of West Indies (UWI) and said to me that this is where I will do my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science when I leave high school. I went straight from high school and completed both at the age of 22. Not thinking that there was another choice.

He had an impact on me by example, and passive support—sort of like an invisible hand that guided you. Never saying not to do something but suggesting which way was best.

He always bought a lot of books for us to read, so much that by the time I was eight, I had read all the volumes in the Hardy Boys series of books. I also recall, once in grade 3, coming home from school (Belair Prep) at the time and complaining that I played a football game and didn't get to touch the ball because I needed a pair of football boots. He bought the football boots for me, never alerting me to the fact that maybe I just wasn't good hence why I didn't get to touch the ball.

He also influenced me in healthy habits, as he walked everyday, even leaving his car to walk to the supermarket, and he stopped drinking alcohol and watched his diet. Today I ride bicycles, don't drink alcohol and eat no red meat.

He worked at Revere, in Mandeville, at the time, and had a Cortina S, and from I was six years old I always insisted on sitting in the front of the car with him. My poor mother was relegated to the back seat at times. I recall once coming into Kingston, at the same age, and I was chatting up a storm, and he told me to shut up or he would put me out the car. To which I responded, “Put me out then”.

He stopped the car and I opened the door and went through a barb wire fence into a cow pasture and he had to run after me and retrieve me. My uncle reminded me of it when we all had dinner recently.

When we moved to Kingston, he sent us to Priory Prep. I left from Priory and went to Jamaica College (JC) and developed a passion for accounting. I guess influenced by him, as he was an accountant also, and he used to take me to work with him.

During my time at JC, I was sick for the first five years, and had to be on medication daily. In 1979, when I was in third form, I remember one night driving around Kingston with him trying to get some tablets, and was unable to because medication was short in the country because of the economic challenges the country was facing and foreign exchange was in very short supply. We ended up having to call my paediatrician and got some of his personal supplies. He did everything that night to ensure that I got the medication I needed.

As I progressed through JC, I realised that many of the boys were smoking ganja and some even took cocaine. I was never once tempted to try any drugs because my father always talked to us about certain things such as the effects of ganja, and always told us about the importance of doing the right thing all the time. So I never got into any real trouble, although as teenagers we did do some things we were not supposed to and get into fights sometimes. But I guess that was a part of growing up at an all boys' school.

When we were older also (when I got my licence), my brother and I would sometimes take out the car when he was sleeping. But after I became older I figured he knew we were doing it, as he was the one who gave me a key for the car and never took it back. So while we were busy pushing the car out of the driveway, thinking we were being smart, I am sure he knew what was happening.

The most important thing for him was that we did well in school, and once we did he was OK.

One day, in fifth form, I had accounts homework and I asked him to help me with one of the questions. He looked at me and asked me if he had bought the Frank Wood accounting book for me. I responded, 'Yes' and he said, 'Well go and read the book and find out for yourself and then you can ask if you have a problem”. I did exactly that and figured it out and I never throughout school asked anyone to help with any problem again and would do all the research necessary to find the answers myself. I guess he was teaching me that I should solve my own problems.

While at UWI, Seaga had raised the fees, and as UWI students we locked the gates and marched on JBC and the Ministry of Finance to demonstrate, as in those days students were militant if anything affected us. He encouraged it and then after the second day of marching he suggested that I write a letter to Seaga (who was PM at the time), which I did and got a personally signed response to my suggestion.

I was, of course, elated that the PM had responded to me, and I never thought at the time that he may have had something to do with it, as he delivered the letter and gave me the response. I will never know as both men are no longer with us, but he was active in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) behind the scenes from the days of Busta, and thinking about it he may have had something to do with it.

He always involved me in the work he was doing with the JLP, and through him I met men like Ossie Harding, Ed Bartlett, Derrick Smith, Ryan Peralto, Kingsley Sangster, and also Enid Bennett. He would take me to the private dinners they had to discuss party business, many of which were held in Stony Hill. In fact, after my BSc graduation at UWI, I never went out with friends to celebrate but rather went with my father to a JLP meeting in Stony Hill.

When I was 14, in the 1980 election, he was working with Ryan Peralto, and he took me with Peralto to Jacques Road to assess what was happening there.

He always told me, though, to never get involved in representational politics as I would more than likely lose my objectivity. He said it was better to help behind the scenes. I understand what he meant by that as many supported the respective parties just because. I, on the other hand, have voted for both parties in the past, based on what I think they had to offer Jamaica.

What was important to him though was to get involved in making a difference. Which I have tried to do in my life, and hope that I have had some success.

One of the proudest moments for him was when I became president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica (ICAJ). From high school he always took me with him to the accounting seminars put on by the ICAJ, and that continued straight through university. So while other children were doing things with friends on a Saturday, I was at an accounting seminar learning things way past my level at school. I did try to absorb as much as I could and it also helped that from when I was around 15, he always encouraged me to read Time and Newsweek magazines and in fact gave me a book on Lee Iacoca's biography and his turnaround of Chrysler, which I devoured, and became to admire Iacoca.

There is many more that I could say about someone who was always thinking about helping those close to him to become the best they could be. Maybe because he did not get to do all he wanted. He didn't always do it the right way, but if you looked beyond the delivery you could find a “gem”.

Of all he did though, I think the most important thing he imparted was the importance of integrity and living within your means. He always encouraged us to save and ensure that we do not take on unnecessary debt. He was an accountant, so what would one expect.

What he teaches us though is that sometimes the most important people are not the ones who everyone knows and who make the most noise, but the ones who make the people who everyone knows. It is also important to look beyond the messenger and absorb the message.

Dada you have played your innings well and made an impact. Walk good.

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Dennis Chung is the author of Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium. His blog is dcjottings.blogspot.com.

Email: drachung@gmail.com


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