By Sarah Boesveld
Spring’s convocation marks the end of business czar Gladstone Raymond Chang’s — but please, call him Ray — first term as Ryerson’s chancellor.
This year, his name was cut out in copper letters and slapped on the front of Heaslip House to acknowledge Chang’s $5.5 million donation. But he is still shy about his name’s prominent display. “It’s not the Chang building,” he will scoff. Still, he proudly stands across from Lake Devo, a little uneasy, but clearly comfortable at Ryerson.
As he poses for the camera, students filter by. They don’t stop to notice him. When inducted as chancellor at last fall’s convocation, the former president of investment giant C.I. Financial and active philanthropist proclaimed himself “chancellor for the students.”
But as undergrads rush by the building and past Lake Devo, would they notice the beaming, round-faced man in the long camel trench-coat?
Nazila Mottaghian probably would not. “You never hear anything about him,” says the first-year electrical engineering student.
The jovial Jamaican-Chinese Canadian multimillionaire says he hasn’t given up on meeting students just yet. “If students see me, I encourage them to talk to me,” he says in a lilting island accent. “But not many people stop me.”
Chang says he’s partnered with vice provost students Zouheir Fawaz to coordinate their schedules and get out to meet more students next fall.
“What I’d love to be able to do — and I don’t know whether professors would like this — is to sneak in on some classes.”
Students may not recognize him, but to the residents of Jorgenson hall, he’s a familiar, friendly presence.
Janice Winton, executive director at the financial office, says he always says hello when she runs into him. “He’s always very friendly.”
Ron Besse, friend and co-board member at C.I. Financial, the investment firm Chang started in the 1980s that made him his millions, sings his praises — which just about everyone does. “He has shown considerable generousity to Ryerson because he sees the success of Ryerson’s approach to higher education and the diversification of its student body.”
Chang, 58, relates to the average student on campus more than one would think. “We’re made up of a summation of minorities. If you take a look at myself, I’m a Jamaican-Chinese (minority). It struck home when I went to China for the first time.”
Chang, a Hakka Chinese, (Cantonese for “guest people”) grew up in a small village outside of Kingston, Jamaica with 12 siblings. He is always quick to mention his roots and flies to Jamaica frequently to fund a program that helps local farmers become self-sufficient. So far, his landmark project at Ryerson has been forming a distance-education program for Caribbean nurses between Ryerson and the University of the West-Indies.
Chang studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York (also the alma mater of former president Claude Lajeunesse). He says the program gave him the “mental discipline” he was looking for.
“Luckily I realized, and it’s probably still true, that I was lazy and I needed something to push me. Can you imagine, going away for the first time and nobody telling you to do your homework?” he asks.
From there he took a chartered accountant course and formed partnerships. Then he gets impatient. “Essentially, to fast forward — here I am, at the right place at the right time.”
Chang has two children, Andrew, 34, a businessman and Bridgette, 30, who’s in teacher’s college.
Chang plans to increase his visits to Ryerson from once every two weeks to once a week, becoming more involved in projects and attending more events at the university. “He always wants to be a part of what we’re doing,” Anita Shilton, dean of the continuing education school, says.
Shilton describes him as a “visionary philanthropist,” someone who sees potential and acts on it.
And that’s exactly what he saw in Ryerson. “They’re training you for what to expect in the future. When students leave here, they’re prepared.”
Being an industry man and a firm believer in hard work and education, Chang likes to see students learning skills they can use upon graduation.
And since education stands as his most defined value, he wanted to make sure his donation went to expanding that philosophy at Ryerson, not just to get his name tacked on a building.
In fact, he never wanted his name to grace the front of the Continuing Education building at all.
He finally allowed president Sheldon Levy and other members of administration to twist his arm and allow them to have his name tacked above the doorway of Heaslip House.
“All I can hope to achieve, and it may sound too syrupy, is to make (Ryerson) a better place for students.”
He also hopes he’ll have more time to spend with students after the convocation ceremonies this June.
“What I enjoy most of all is after (the ceremony). We’re not given enough time to meet with graduates.”
Perhaps he can use his chancellor powers to get that changed this year.