Leaving Footprints In The Sand

Leaving Footprints In The Sand

Lam Sum-chee was raised by a single mother in the old Kowloon Walled City without running water or a flushing system. Today he is a retired financial guru who has just set up an endowed scholarship for students in need. His transformation from poor boy to rich man started in the Faculty of Arts.

Mr Lam entered HKU in 1964 on Lam Sum-cheea bursary that covered the cost of his tuition (about $3,000 a year) and his lodging. Without it, he could never have afforded to attend university. With it, his life changed.

“The bursary came from HKU before the government introduced any grants. I didn’t have to do a lot of part-time work so I had the time to pursue my studies and to really enjoy what I was reading,” he says. “It was really a luxury for me. I lived in St John’s College and I had my own room, although we shared toilets.”

He majored in history and the lessons he learned helped to launch him down the path of investment.

He began investing in the stock market while teaching at St Stephen’s College in Stanley to top up his income, and applied his academic learning to the pursuit. History had taught him to appreciate trends over decade-long horizons and longer, and to understand that patterns repeat themselves. But that was not all.

“I started to collect annual reports and clip newspaper articles. Where did I learn my filing system? The HKU library,” he says.

“You don’t need to be an economics or business graduate to make a lot of money. History has helped me a lot, it gives me patience. And I have learned from what I witnessed myself.”

He has earned many millions of dollars from this approach and now wants to give back so others can receive the same opportunities that he had.

Mr Lam set up a History scholarship in 1986 providing $10,000 a year and so far 32 students have benefited. In 2004 he also set up the Evergreen Scholarship that provides full fee and hostel expenses and so far 13 Arts students have benefited. This year he established the Evergreen Scholarships and Bursaries Endowment Fund to sustain the giving.

Leaving Footprints In The Sand

“I hope some of the recipients will also feel grateful to the University and who knows, maybe one day one of them will make bigger donations than I have,” Mr Lam says.

Memories of the Main Building
Barn dances were a highlight of student life in Mr Lam’s day. The floor at Loke Yew Hall was covered in hay procured from Dairy Farm, which had a farm at Chi Fu. Soft drinks were served as students danced to the latest tunes from the Beatles and other pop stars.

“We all came in our jeans and we came to meet girls,” he says. But success was not guaranteed. The Medical faculty was mostly boys, the Arts Faculty mostly girls. “At the barn dance, the Medical boys tended to take our prettiest girls.”

Azaleas were a sign that it was time to get serious about studying. “The purple azaleas flowered in March and April and used to cover the whole slope where KK Leung, the Knowles Building and the lily pond are. They used to say, when you see the flowers you know exams are coming.”

The arches. Mr Lam has a special fondness for the Main Building arches. “I like the neo-classicism of this building very much and now in my own house I have five arches with the centerpiece on as part of the decoration.”

Mr Lam obtained his Bachelor degree in Arts from HKU (1967) and became an Honorary University Fellow in 2007. As one of the first generation of financial analysts in Hong Kong, he worked for financial institutions like HSBC, Merrill Lynch and UBS during his career. He is retired and resides in Hong Kong. Mr Lam’s Evergreen Fund is generously supporting the University’s “Turn $1 to Five” Campaign– with a HK$30 million matching donation.

Lam Sum-chee2