Donation to assist Buddhist studies

by Jonathan Woodward, Vancouver Sun, August 21, 2007

West Van businessman to fund program at Stanford

Vancouver, Canada -- A West Vancouver businessman is planning to make a multi-million-dollar donation to Stanford University in California as part of a grand plan to create a network of Buddhist studies programs to span the globe.

Robert Hung-Ngai Ho, scion of one of Hong Kong's wealthiest and most prominent families, has already donated $4-million each to the University of Toronto and the University of B.C. to create Buddhist studies programs.

A donation to Stanford, creating the third such program in North America and the fifth worldwide, would be a similar size as the Canadian donations, he said.

"My vision is still ongoing," said the 74-year-old billionaire from his elegant second-storey office in West Vancouver. "Our plan is to circle the globe."

Ho's grandmother, Clara Lin-kok, was a devout Buddhist and founded free schools in Hong Kong, and much of these donations are in her honour, he said.

"We don't go out to preach," he said. "It's up to you to decide. I'm promoting the philosophy, not the religion.

"The Buddha, it teaches you to solve your own problems," he said. "It teaches you how to escape your own suffering and go into eternal happiness."

Ho's grandfather was Sir Robert Ho Tung, who was a prominent merchant. Sir Robert, son of a Chinese mother and European father, made his fortune from land development and commodity training.

The Hong Kong family business now has a global reach, with equity and real estate investments in various countries, including Australia and Britain.

Stanford officials wouldn't comment on the potential donation, as talks have not been completed yet.

In 2000, Ho helped finance the new Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong with a $15-million donation. Ho's largest gift was $25-million he donated to his alma mater, Colgate University in New York State, in 2004 for the Robert Hung Ngai Ho Interdisciplinary Science Centre.

Ho was born and raised in Hong Kong. He graduated from Colgate in 1956 with a BA and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1958.

He worked for National Geographic Magazine as a correspondent at the White House and the United Nations in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, Ho returned to Hong Kong, where he published and edited a newspaper. Ho became a director of the Sang Kee Rent Office, the name of his family's private empire.