Rice and Houston lose the ‘wise, generous, elegant and kind’ W.F. Chao

Wei Fong Chu Chao (W.F. Chao), whose philanthropic work with her late husband Ting Tsung (T.T.) Chao helped create the T.T. and W.F. Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University, died at home July 1. She was 93 years old.

Born in Jinan, China, Wei Fong worked as an operating room nurse in Suzhou during World War II. She married T.T. in 1943, and they moved to Taipei in 1946 with their daughter before settling in Houston in the late 1990s.

“Houston has lost an extraordinary woman,” said Y. Ping Sun, Rice University representative and a Chao family friend. “We (Sun and her spouse, Rice President David Leebron) met Mrs. Chao shortly after we arrived in Houston 10 years ago. She was one of the most wise, generous, elegant and kind people I have ever met — always interested in others and seeking ways to help. For me, she was a great role model. She will be greatly missed, but her generous spirit will continue to have a great impact.”

Chao was a gourmet cook, a devout Buddhist, a serious golfer and a crack mahjong player, according to her family. Throughout her life, Chao remained devoted to her family and to many philanthropic causes. She was on the board of Jinling Girls High School in Taipei and of numerous Buddhist organizations. She served as chairman of the Tanglewood Property Group and president of the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation. In this capacity she made significant contributions to health care, educational, religious and cultural organizations around the world.

“We mourn the passing of Mrs. Chao, a strong supporter of Asian Studies at Rice and a patron of the arts and education in the Greater Houston community,” said Richard Smith, the George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities and professor of history who was the interim director of the Chao Center when it was established in 2007. “She and her late husband, T.T. Chao, will be greatly missed, but their memory will live on in the Chao Center for Asian Studies.”

Chao is survived by her children Dorothy Chao Jenkins and her husband, Charles Jenkins Jr.; James Chao and his wife, Lydia Koo; Albert Chao and his wife, Anne Shen Chao; grandchildren Jennifer Jenkins and husband Jamie Boyle, Anthony Jenkins, John Chao, David Chao, Catherine Chao, Elizabeth Chao and her husband Almog Bokobza, Carolyn Chao and her husband Jake Sabat; and great grandchildren Madeline and Wyatt Sabat, and Sophia Chao.

W.F. Chao’s son, Albert Chao, currently serves on Rice’s Board of Trustees.

A memorial service will be held July 18.

The Chao Center is a research institute that contributes to Rice’s undergraduate Asian studies major and supports a research model that looks carefully and critically at the complex ways people in Asia have been involved with one another and with the rest of the world, currently and in the past. The center works closely with peer organizations in Asia and collaborates with scholars who pursue similar studies.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.