WHEN AIC/NCB Chairman Michael Lee Chin received the telephone call from philanthropist/ businesswoman, Mrs. Hilary Weston of the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws, in March 2003, many thoughts went through his mind, he revealed to Lifestyle at AIC headquarters last week. These included the fact that in 1963 his mom Gloria Chen was Mrs. Weston's brother-in-law, Granger Weston's bookkeeper at Frenchman's Cove, Port Antonio, Portland. And:
At age 14 Lee Chin got his first job at Frenchman's Cove Hotel on the landscaping team
In 1966, Granger Weston gave Lee Chin a summer job on his cruise ship the Jamaica Queen which plied Jamaica, Miami and The Bahamas where his job was to clean the noisy, hot and very dirty engine room. His reward at the end of that stint was a ride in the boss' helicopter and so began his fascination with helicopters. He now uses one of his very own, but most importantly, AIC is one of Loblaw's largest shareholders, the chain owned by the Westons.
On the same day that he received the call from Mrs. Weston, he also received a copy of the Forbes Magazine and the centrespread carried a photograph of them both, having made the billionaires' list that year.
The Weston and Chen/Lee Chin families' histories are permanently intertwined.
Back to 2003, when he was approached by Mrs. Weston, the deadly SARS scare had hit Toronto and in the United States President George W. Bush was contemplating war in Iraq. But the ROM was also in a fund-raising mode and a lead donor was needed.
"We need someone to donate CDN$30 million to start the fund," Mrs. Weston told Lee Chin at their meeting. His immediate reaction was why would he be asked when all she had to do was have her husband Galen Weston sign the cheque over breakfast?
But her response was that all of Canada knew her husband could write the cheque, but if he did, it would be business as usual. However if Lee Chin made the donation, it would resonate with every Canadian because it would show what can be achieved by a Jamaican immigrant in Canada through hard work, intelligence and dedication.
Lee Chin told Lifestyle that at that point he felt sold on the idea of making the donation. Added to that, thoughts of his mother, the 1960s connection with Portland, the parish of his birth and the chance "meeting" with Mrs. Weston in Forbes Magazine all went through his mind. Destiny and the series of wonderful coincidence seemed to have deliberately collided.
But uppermost in his mind was the negative reputation of some Jamaicans in Canada and he saw it as a way to say that not all Jamaicans are bad. So, making the $30 million donation was a way to inspire every immigrant to realise and be proud of who they are.
NOTE: The new Renaissance ROM is listed in the top 20 among the current 150 best new buildings in that category worldwide.