Lillian Wai Lan Chan Ding, M’53, never had the chance to meet recipients of the scholarship that bears her name. Although she and husband Lik Kiu Ding, M.D., made plans in the summer of 1996 to establish the Lillian Chan Ding, M.D. Scholarship, she died a few months later.
But the story doesn’t end there. Not only has the Ding Scholarship supported School of Medicine students for more than two decades, but the Dings’ daughter, Mary, has traveled from California more than once to meet beneficiaries of her parents’ generosity.
Two years ago, Ding and her brother Luke met Paula Nguyen, a current recipient. This spring, returning to meet the Class of 2020’s Nguyen and fellow recipient Sonia Rutten, Ding shared the story behind the scholarship.
Her mother, a native of Canton, China, arrived in the States as a refugee. She had wanted to be a pediatrician since age 12, having witnessed the suffering inflicted upon the Chinese during World War II. A government scholarship enabled her to follow her dream on the MCV Campus.
Lik Kiu Ding, who was born in Malaysia, also emigrated following World War II. He, too, wanted to be a physician and entered general practice with a degree from Johns Hopkins University.
The two young medical students met while taking boards in Washington, D.C. Both went on to intern in Chicago, where they began to date and fell in love.
Shortly after marrying, the newlyweds moved to Borneo to work with Aborigines. “The years they spent in the jungle were their happiest,” says daughter Mary. “They built a hospital from scratch.”
They didn’t have electricity the first two years and often had to work by flashlight. But, as Mary Ding notes, having medical care for the first time made patients all the more grateful.
Three decades after the Dings left Borneo to practice in Hong Kong, a breast cancer diagnosis led Lillian to retire, establish a hospice and found Hong Kong’s first cancer support group.
Eventually the couple moved to Palo Alto, California, where daughter Mary was a software developer. There, Lillian Ding initiated Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking cancer support groups so patients could communicate with caregivers.
Ten years into her own battle against cancer, Ding made the decision to give back to her alma mater with a scholarship in honor and memory of her beloved faculty mentor, Louise Loving Jones, associate professor in what is now the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Ding wished to extend a legacy of volunteerism by encouraging and rewarding the same ideals in future students.
As she said in a 1996 interview, Lillian wanted the scholarship to go to students who would “help those who are desperate to regain their hope.” It was her wish that recipients go on to touch the lives of the disadvantaged and “keep the ‘gift of love’ alive because love never fails.”
The compassionate healer could have been describing herself.
Reminiscing about her parents – her father died in 2008 – Mary Ding’s love and respect shines through. “They never tried to preach or tell us what to do,” she says. “We learned by watching them.” That includes her sisters Vivian Woodman and Grace Ding, both physicians, and her brother, a financier turned philanthropist, all of whom live in England now.
Sharing these stories “brings back good memories,” she adds, beaming. “It recharges my energy.”
And learning more about their scholarship’s origin only enhances Rutten and Nguyen’s appreciation for the legacy that the Dings established and their children help sustain.
“Your mother’s scholarship has continued to be such a sweet blessing in my pursuit of medicine,” Rutten says. “I continue to be inspired by her passionate service toward the underserved and her compassion to all those around her.”
“Absolutely,” concurs Nguyen, “[and] having some relief from the financial burden of medical school allows me to better concentrate on serving the patients. So again, I deeply thank you.”