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Dr. Joseph Du, visionary community-builder and friend of the U of M has died

March 24, 2017 — 

Dr. Joseph Du spent his life looking forward. Imagining what could be, and what role he could play in creating it. For that, our city, province and university were greatly enriched.

He was the youngest of 11 children. Born in Vietnam in 1933 to Chinese parents they fled when military tensions escalated. Soon after, disease struck some of his siblings. He looked on helpless. It was then he decided to study paediatric medicine and at 17 he fled Communist North Vietnam and studied medicine for the next seven years in Taiwan; eventually becoming an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s Medical School.

President David Barnard receievs the Golden Dragon Citizen of the Year Award from Dr. Joseph Du // Photo by Howard Lee

President David Barnard receievs the Golden Dragon Citizen of the Year Award from Dr. Joseph Du // Photo by Howard Lee

He arrived in Canada in 1961 and began practicing medicine in Winnipeg in 1968. That same year he began to regularly board small planes to fly into remote communities in northern Manitoba and the Northwest Territories to provide medical care. He did this until he retired in 2002, even if flying conditions were perilous. He had a duty and he would not stray.

Dr. Du stepped forward when crises threatened: In 1979 he co-chaired a committee to help coordinate the settlement of Vietnamese boat people in Canada and later served for nine years on the Council for Canadian Unity when the possibility of Quebec separation was at its peak.

He was also a driving force in redeveloping Winnipeg’s Chinatown, helping develop six iconic buildings, including the Chinese Cultural Centre. In October 2013, a portion of James Street in Chinatown was named after him.

“Joe is a very giving man, a visionary. His mind never stops. That’s the way he’ll go, telling me what he plans to do next,” his wife Jeannine said of him in a 2016 interview.

Indeed, the scope of his involvement has always been broad. He organized the first symposium on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Winnipeg. He spearheaded the visit of two pandas from China to the Winnipeg Zoo. He commissioned two sculptures, including one by Leo Mol, to commemorate the role of Chinese-Canadian workers in constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway, and many other projects.  

He has received many other honours and awards, including being named to the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, and an honorary degree from the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Du is survived by his wife Jeannine, and their children Alexander (Loreta), Audrey, Jennifer (Robert) and Michelle (Bob), and nine grandchildren. He will be remembered by many more.

The University of Manitoba thanks him for all he did for our community.

On March 24, our flag will fly at half mast to honour him.

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