In memoriam: Rayson Huang

8 May 2015

Dr Rayson Huang, one of four founding trustees of the Croucher Foundation, passed away peacefully on 8 April 2015 in the United Kingdom. Huang was appointed by Noel Croucher on 8th December 1979 and served the Foundation for an unbroken tenure of 34 years. The following eulogy, presented at a memorial held at The University of Hong Kong on 6 May 2015, is reproduced with the kind permission of the University.

Dr Rayson Huang was born in Shantou, China in 1920. His father, Mr Rufus Huang黃映然, moved the family to Hong Kong in 1923, where Rayson received a classical Chinese primary education and a bilingual secondary education in Munsang College民生書院. His father was the principal of this new school.

Huang entered the University of Hong Kong on a Government scholarship in 1938 as a student in the Faculty of Arts taking the science group of subjects. He transferred a little later to the newly established Faculty of Science and was the President of the Science Society in 1941.

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong would mark a major turning point in Huang’s life. After the occupation and the conferment of a "war degree” by the University, Huang left for Free China, where he taught briefly at True Light Middle School真光中學. He later joined the National Kwangsi University at Kweilin as an instructor in Chemistry.

In later years, Huang would note – in characteristic fashion – that the misfortune of war had somehow turned out to be a piece of good fortune for him, because if he had not been conferred that “war degree” from HKU, he would not have been admitted to Oxford University.

In late 1943 he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and pursued his postgraduate studies at Oxford in the 1940s under Professor Sir Robert Robinson, Nobel Laureate. After obtaining his D Phil Degree, Huang joined the University of Chicago as a post-doctoral fellow to do research under Professor M S Kharasch, a world pioneer in Free Radical Chemistry, for two years (1947-49). Subsequently he worked with Professor Konrad Bloch, Nobel Laureate, on the biosynthesis of cholesterol.

In early 1951 Huang went to Singapore and joined the University of Malaya as a lecturer in chemistry. In 1959 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry by the newly established University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, where he also served as Dean of Science and as Acting Vice-Chancellor for the next ten years. In 1969 he returned to Singapore to take up the Vice-Chancellorship of Nanyang University for three and a half years. In 1972, he returned to Hong Kong to assume the Vice-Chancellorship of his alma mater.

Huang was the first alumnus and the first Chinese appointed to the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. He served the University in this capacity for fourteen years (from 1972 to 1986), making him one of the longest serving Vice-Chancellors to date.

Under the leadership of Huang, the University introduced many new academic disciplines to meet the needs of the community, increasing the breadth and depth of its curriculum, which, as a result, became the most comprehensive in the territory.

In the 1970s, the University grew rapidly and doubled its student population over the decade. During this period, Huang initiated a Main Campus Redevelopment Project on a scale unseen at the University since the Second World War, and for which he sought and found much community support. The way the main campus looks today is, in large part, the result of his vision. Most of the distinctive red-brick buildings on the main campus and many student residences were erected one after another in 1980s, as did a number of staff quarters, academic buildings and sports facilities along Pok Fu Lam Road, Sassoon Road and in Sandy Bay.

During his time as Vice-Chancellor, Huang was also in the service of the Hong Kong community, as a member of the Legislative Council for six years (1977-83) and as a member of the Advisory Committee on Corruption and the Operation Review Committee of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (1974-1978). He also served as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee for the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, as chairman of its specialist sub-committee on Beijing-Hong Kong relations, and as Vice-Chairman of the Basic Law Consultative Committee (1985-90). Huang also contributed to the development of tertiary education in Mainland China, in his capacity as an advisor in the establishment of Shantou University汕頭大學.

Huang was conferred a DSc Degree from Oxford and an Honorary DSc from HKU in 1968. He was awarded the CBE by the British Government in 1976.

Dr Rayson Huang was a Trustee of the Croucher Foundation裘槎基金會, set up by the late Noel Croucher, for the purpose of funding endeavours that advance the standards of science, technology and medicine in Hong Kong. When the Croucher Foundation was established in 1979, Rayson Huang was chosen to be one of only four to be entrusted with the responsibility of being a Trustee for life. For over three decades, Huang had dutifully attended Croucher Foundation Board meetings, participating actively not only in the minutiae of funding decisions, but also in the overall strategy for the effective funding of scientific endeavours in Hong Kong.

Huang had a lifelong connection with his alma mater. Even after his retirement, his successors were to benefit from his wealth of experience, as he helped them to continue the development of the University, through alumni networking and fundraising.

The Rayson Huang Lecture Theatre, opened in 1986, celebrates Huang’s ongoing dedication to HKU, as do the endowed scholarships bearing his name in the disciplines of Chemistry and Music, established through donations from his friends and colleagues.

Huang left Hong Kong and moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom in 1994, where he has been with and cared for by his beloved sons and their families and friends. He travelled intermittently to Hong Kong for Croucher and HKU activities – including, famously, the University’s Centenary Celebration in 2011.

I don't think there is anyone here who does not feel enriched by having known Huang. And even the younger generation of the HKU family will never be far from his legacy when they are on campus.

I wish to end by quoting a passage that Huang wrote in his book, A lifetime to Academia. In response to the compliments paid to him by his friends on the large number of developments in the University during his tenure, he said: “It was actually, as a Chinese saying puts it – the circumstances which made the hero and not the other way round.” (所謂「時勢造英雄」,而非「英雄造時勢」) This is a true reflection of the humility of a great man who devoted his entire life to education, research and administration to make the world a better place to live in.

Today, although we say goodbye in sadness, we remember his life with gratitude and admiration, and may his memory continue to encourage and inspire us all.