Meaden Hall was crowded well beyond standing room only for a celebration of life for Sam Chan on Saturday, Feb. 16.
The well-loved face of Golden Island Restaurant died at his home on Jan. 6 at the age of 64. He had retired last fall after he and members of his extended family sold the restaurant that his sister Winnie and her husband Ted Kwong opened in the early 1980s.
Sam’s nephew Brian Kwong emceed the formal part of Saturday’s event, telling his uncle’s life story, which was also detailed in a six-page keepsake card. Kwong’s narrative contained ample humour, as might be expected from a close relative of Sam’s.
Coming to Victoria from Hong Kong along with his older brother Richard, Sam had been among the first cohort to earn a computer science degree from UVic in 1979, although he did not end up pursuing that career in Canada, and returned to Hong Kong for a time after graduating.
Family was always important to Sam, said Kwong.
Sam had three older and three younger siblings, and he took a lead role in looking after his father until he died last year.
“He saw it as his duty to do. He was proud to do it . . . and that was very indicative of the kind of person he was.”
The printed biography explained that Sam’s father had carried Sam to the hospital for daily treatment due to the polio he contracted as an infant.
Kwong addressed Sam’s sons David and Andrew in telling them they “got off easy” when it came to discipline from their father.
“We are a tight-knit Chinese family and we were not afraid to discipline each other’s kids,” Kwong explained, drawing laughter from the crowd. “He really mellowed out when you guys came along.”
He also said it was evident “how proud [Sam] was of the men you guys had become.”
Kwong noted that their uncles would now have to tease them about their girlfriends, as Sam had done with the chosen partners of his nieces and nephews, and the many young adults he came to know through the Golden Island.
Kwong said interacting with the Salt Spring community as he did in the restaurant for more than 30 years brought Sam great fulfillment and the admiration of his customers.
“He wasn’t the Pope, but look around,” said Kwong, indicating the number of people who had come to pay respects to their favourite server, who always took the time to ask his customers about their life and families and remembered all the details, as well as their favourite Golden Island dishes.
Both David and Andrew Chan described how they didn’t get to spend much time with their father until their adolescent years when they worked with him.
“Only when I worked at the restaurant did I realize what a great human being he was,” said Andrew. “How nice he was to everyone . . . and how he was just so involved in the community.”
David shared how he hosted his parents at Christmas time in Victoria when they lost their power after the windstorm. On Boxing Day he and his father ate food rescued from the family freezer on Salt Spring and watched a basketball game, even though neither of them follow the sport.
Following a slide show put together by John Malcolm, people enjoyed food and refreshments hosted by the Legion Ladies Auxiliary, and shared memories amongst themselves.
The celebration of life was organized by Sam’s wife Jane Chan and Samantha Chamberlin, a longtime colleague of Sam’s at the restaurant.
People are welcome to send messages of condolence and memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.