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Inspired to give

How one prominent donor turned others’ generosity into a lifetime of giving

November 10, 2014 — 

Over 60 years ago, a welcoming community, dedicated professors and a single bursary made all the difference for a deserving student at the University of Manitoba.

George Yee [MD/60] grew up in one of Winnipeg’s poorest neighbourhoods, and despite his family’s financial challenges his parents supported and encouraged his pursuit of a university education.

“I was born a galaxy away from academia,” he noted in his address at the U of M Faculty of Medicine convocation in 2012 at which he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Sciences.

Growing up in poverty didn’t impact the Yee family priorities; from a young age George Yee was told by his parents that he would have to go to university.

The U of M Medical School opened up a different world to Yee. “I was accepted. The Hippocratic Oath says you accept your colleagues as brothers. Everybody looked at me as though there weren’t any differences,” he recalled in a 2009 interview with Manitoba Medicine. “I was inspired by the dedication of my professors, the other doctors, how much they gave, and I was helped… I was in pretty tough financial straits but the Dean came to me and said ‘you know George you need some money’ and gave me a bursary. That had a big impact on me because I came from a place where nobody helps anybody out; you got to fight for whatever you have

“Education enabled me to achieve success and I vowed that if I was ever fortunate enough, I would give back.”

That vow to himself has turned into a lifetime of philanthropy for George and his wife Fay. The Yees recently donated $500,000 to support the new Anatomical Sciences Laboratory at the Faculty of Health Sciences. In total, George and Fay Yee have contributed more than $3.3 million to the University of Manitoba, illustrating a commitment to Yee’s alma mater, medical education and medical student support.

In 2006, Dr. Yee’s class held their 46th reunion and he generously matched his classmates’ total gift amount to support the Medicine Class of 1960 Entrance Scholarship award. This gift, a group effort, helps medical students with the financial pressures of medical school, a pressure he remembers himself as a medical student.

“The University of Manitoba is very proud of all of its graduates and in particular graduates like Dr. Yee who remember the days of getting in to medical school, always grateful for the support he received, and ready to give back to the school that gave him his start in life,” said Dr. David Barnard, University of Manitoba President and Vice-Chancellor. “Dr. Yee exemplifies what we like to see in graduates: he is a thoughtful and humane person. It’s that humane exchange between people that actually shapes the university experience.”

Editor’s note: George Yee passed away on November 11, 2014. He was a great friend to the University of Manitoba and his legacy will live on through the students and researchers whose achievements are fostered by his contributions.

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