Memorial Service
A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Thomas Tam

Sunday, March 9, 2008
2:30PM to 5PM

25 West 43rd Street, 18th Floor
between 5th & 6th Avenues, Manhattan

As his final parting gift to AAARI, Dr. Tam created the Dr. Thomas M.S. Tam Foundation for financial contributions that will go towards the Institute. The Tam Family has requested that in lieu of funeral floral arrangements, that contributions be made towards the Foundation instead. Please note that all contributions are tax-deductible.

Contributions should be made payable to the Dr. Thomas M.S. Tam Foundation, and mailed to Dr. Tam's sister, Pearl Tam, MD, 8 Chatham Square, Room 308, New York, NY 10038

New York Times Obituary

March 1, 2008, by The City University of New York

March 5, 2008, by Tam Family

Message from AAARI
February 28, 2008

Dear Friend,

It is with great sadness to inform you of the recent passing of Dr. Thomas Tam, colleague, friend, and a co-founder of the Asian American / Asian Research Institute (AAARI), under the aegis of Queens College, of The City University of New York (CUNY). Dr. Tam had been battling Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive type of brain tumor, for the past two years before his unexpected departure early yesterday evening. He is survived by his wife Margaret, his daughter Anika, and step-children Emily and Victor.

An immigrant from China, Dr. Tam received his B.A. in Physics from City College of New York (1968), M.A. in Film-Making from Montclair State University (1978), M.P.H. from Columbia University School of Public Health (1980); and Ph.D. in SocioMedical Sciences from Columbia University (1983). An activist for the Asian American community, Dr. Tam is a founding member of the Chinatown Health Clinic (Charles B. Wang Community Health Center), Asian Cinevision, and Asian American Higher Education Council (AAHEC). In 1989, he was appointed as the first-ever Asian member of the CUNY Board of Trustees.

During his four-years of service as the Executive Director of AAARI since its establishment in 2001, Dr. Tam, with minimal funding and the assistance of his CUNY student staff, created and established programs such as the long-running Friday Evening Lecture Series; the CUNY Asian American Film Festival; the Chinatown in the 21st Century Workshop (supported by CUNY Diversity Grant), the Hi-Tech Bridge Workshop (supported by the Verizon Foundation); the CUNY Response to Tsunami Disaster Speakers Bureau; the CUNY Asian American Dance Festival; and workshops in Chinese Calligraphy, Tai Chi, the Evolution of Chinese Cinema, and Asian Civilizations.

In addition to these activities, nine major conferences on topics such as the Healing and Rebuilding New York After 9/11; Asian American Education; Global Entrepreneurship; South Asians and the Diaspora; and the Well-Being of Asian American Senior Citizens were held under Dr. Tam’s direction. His final project with AAARI was the CUNY Forum on Buddhism: Peace & Mind, which took place on September 14, 2007 at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Please note that most of these wonderful events and activities are available online to view as streaming videos on our website at

In closing, I hope that if you happen to have known or worked with Dr. Tam during his time with us, that you take a brief moment to remember all of the good memories that you have experienced together, and cherish them. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office at 212-869-0182.


Betty Lee Sung, Chair
Hiroko Karan, Vice-Chair
Susan Wong, Co-Vice Chair
AAARI Board of Directors

Antony Wong, Office Manager

Asian American / Asian Research Institute
The City University of New York

PS – In his spare time, Dr. Tam, who preferred to be called Tom by friends and colleagues, enjoyed making short films and documentaries. To share in Tom’s passion for movies, please visit,, to view streaming videos of his past creations and experiences as an Asian American.


Messages from Friends & Colleagues

I am saddened to hear of the death of Thomas Tam who was an innovative and important force for Asian American issues, as well as a fine person . He will be greatly missed but his initiatives will live on. - Joyce Gelb (City College, CUNY)


I have learnt with great sadness of the death of Tom Tam and send my prayers and condolences to you and to his family. – Meena Alexander (Hunter College, CUNY)


It is with great sadness that my family and I convey our condolences and sympathies to Dr. Tam's family.

As a member of an ethnic minority in this city, AAARI is one of the very few organizations that takes issues related to the Asian American community to heart, and is a rare voice that speaks clearly and passionately on behalf of and advocates for solutions for the mostly silent and unseen majority of our diaspora.

I feel very privileged that my family and I have gotten to know Dr. Tam, for his generosity of spirit, for his tireless work ethic, for his contributions to the academic and intellectual discussions, for his examples as a gentle human being in keeping with his Buddhist beliefs, for his broad range of knowledge and interests, and for countless other virtues too many to enumerate here.

Dr. Tam's loss is a loss to us all.  Therefore, we should do whatever we can to make sure that the work that he has left behind is carried on.


Joseph C. Chan
Director, Real Estate Development


I am most sad to hear of Tom's passing. Tom was an era; Tom was an epoch; Tom was the true Asian man; Tom was a gentleman; Tom was all. We will miss you, Tom, greatly. - Keming Liu with sorrow (Medgar Evers College, CUNY)


I received the email from your place. I hear Dr. Tam passed away. I feel sorry about that. He was a nice guy and with the program. I met him a few year ago and the last two years I did not attend the program and the last time I saw was in around in the graduate center. Please inform me about the service and other things. I knew when family and friend loss they suffer when I lost my parents I got the same feeling so hurt. Sometime it takes long time to get well as long as you put them in your heart you always remember them. I hope the family will be fine. Get in touch. Please send my deepest sympathies and condolences to his family. - Amy Cheng


I am deeply saddened to hear of Tom Tam's passing.  Tom Tam was a student, a mentor, a colleague, a comrade, and a friend.   Although I don't remember him when he was taking physics classes here at CCNY, I really got to know him only after he became the first Asian-American Trustee of CUNY, and at once he became a mentor to many of us Asian-American faculty.  He helped found the Asian American Higher Education Council (AAHEC) in order to provide a forum for issues that affect Asian-Americans.  We all remember the many meetings we had under his leadership, the many retreats in June planning strategies for the coming year, and the successful fund-raising banquets.  He was always fair, always patient, always gentle, and always kind.

When his term as CUNY Trustee was up, he continued to push for the Asian-American cause.  All of these efforts culminated in the creation of the CUNY Asian-American Asian Research Institute (AAARI) in 2001. Tom lent his full-time energy and administrative resources to launch

AAARI.  He built AAARI up, brick by brick, event by event, Friday by Friday, conference by conference.  He did it all on his own time, with no salary compensation from CUNY.

It has been a blessing to all of us to have known him, and to have worked with him.  He has been a role model as an administrator and as a friend.

My deepest condolences to his mother, and to his wife, Margaret, as well as to the other members of his family.  I know they will miss his kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness.  May they be comforted in knowing that he has many friends and colleagues who respect him, and who will continue to honor him and to remember him.

May the Father of mercies and God of all comfort bless and comfort his family.

A colleague and friend,

Ngee-Pong Chang (City College, CUNY)


The passing on of dear Tom has come to me as a personal loss. I recall him as not only a dedicated leader in educational causes, but also as a man of great decency, impeccable manners and overflowing with the milk of human kindness. It is most tragic that he  left us at such a relatively young age. I am sure, however, that his noble torch shall be carried aloft by those who feel inspired by his leadership and that is where his enduring legacy will lie for the generations to come.

God bless you & the world
Uday C. Naval,  Ph. D.


I am terribly sorry to learn about the passing of Dr. Thomas Tam.

Whenever I attended the events at AAARI, I was always impressed by Tom's vision and leadership as well as his commitment to promote the interest in Asian and Asian-American studies.

With the deepest sympathies,

Joseph Tse-Hei Lee (Pace University, CUNY)


Yesterday, when I read Betty's e-mail, I was in shock and couldn't write more than one sentence.  Today, I'm trying to recuperate and  give vent to my emotional shock by writing a personal note on him.    I don't have to quantify his contributions and service to us which everybody knows.  The gap he is leaving would be very hard to fill in. I worked with him for a long time--beginning with AAHEC.  Personally, I felt he was the most humane and affectionate leader I've ever worked with in my whole life--very unassuming,  at the same time working hard with dedication.    Whenever he greeted me "Hi, Annie,"  I used to feel the humane touch emanating from him directly to me, making me feel that I'm important.  More than all his service to us, for which I'm sure we all will remember him and be grateful, personally, I will remember him for his "Hi Annie" greeting.  Tears well up in my eyes now and I can't continue any more.  "Hi Tom, Bye."  - Annie (Annie Koshi, City College, CUNY)


He led we followed as health advocates during 70’s in our fight together for better health care at Gouveneur Hospital, that also sparked our awareness and passion throughout the civil rights era. He would live on and always be remembered as a forerunner for a better Chinese community and a trusty friend.
- Hanson Chan & Lo Lan


First let me offer my deepest condolences to you and the entire staff at aaari. I found Dr. Tam to be a supremely amiable person, not to mention his body of work. He first approached me right after 9/11 where we met at a state event. I was very happy to get to know him and work with him at AAARI. - Darrel Sukhdeo


I am writing with deepest sadness to inform you about the passing of Dr. Thomas Tam, the former CUNY Trustee who served with admirable and exemplary distinction from 1989 to 1996.  Dr. Tam was a highly-regarded educator and beloved husband, father, and friend whose admirers stretched far beyond the Asian American communities he served in so many beneficial ways.
With the strong support of then President Matthew Goldstein of Baruch College, Dr. Tam organized the first Asian American Higher Education Council, comprised of faculty and staff throughout CUNY.  Working closely with Professor Emeritus Betty Sung, Dr. Tam lead efforts to establish the first Asian American/Asian Research Institute at CUNY, with the encouragement and assistance of Trustee Wellington Chen, Chancellor Goldstein, President Russell Hotzler, President James Muyskens, and educators and administrators throughout the University.
Dr. Tam's professional career reflected his deep devotion to education, particularly at the collegiate level, and a special emphasis on community healthcare and education, both in New York City and elsewhere.   He had a deep commitment to cultural activities and was always planning for special events during Asian American Heritage Month or involved with movie-making and related projects.
Much more will be said by others whose lives he touched in so many positive and wonderful ways. His many contributions and achievements will be long-enduring.

Jay Hershenson
Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations
The City University of New York


I remember Dr. Tam very well. We will all miss him.
- Rezsin Adams, former Eastern Region President, US-China Peoples Friendship Association


I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Dr. Tam. When I joined CUNY and felt a little lost, AAARI was like a great, welcoming friend and he was a big part of making it so. Dr. Tam was an absolute role model for me in how generous he was with his time and encouragement and with his breadth of vision. He will be missed tremendously. - Sambhavi Lakshminarayanan (Medgar Evers College, CUNY)


I'm sadden to hear Tom's recent passing.  I won't be able to attend the funeral as I'm out of the country. But I will light a candle for him.
With condolences,
Xiao Li Tan


We heard of Dr. Tam's passing and would like to offer our condolences.  He was a very important person in the Asian community. His generosity will not be forgotten. Also we would like to send our sincere condolences on behalf of the BLIA Manhattan chapter to his wife Margaret and his family. Dr. Tam has made it possible for the BLIA Manhattan chapter to have a meeting place for our Dharma Talk helping to introduce Buddhism to the western community. In his memory we will be taking a collection at our next meeting for Dr. Tam's foundation.
- Helen Chiang (BLIA Manhattan Chapter President)


Our Sincere and Heartfelt Condolence to the passing of our beloved friend Dr. Thomas Tam - The Board of Directors of OCA-Long Island, NY


We are indeed saddened by the news of Dr. Tam's passing.  Our condolences go out to you and his family.

Victor & Maria Pei


I knew Tom since the Lower East Side days of the late 1960’s where I was a young community organizer working for the Lower Eastside Neighborhoods Association who founded the Lower Eastside Neighborhood Health Council.  He was a very young student organizer who along with Corky Lee, Marie Lam and other Chinese activists came back to Chinatown to improve the conditions of the people in the area.

I hired Tom to work as a Health Council member around 1970 or so. He and others eventually organized the first Chinatown Health Fair in 1971 closing Mott Street on a Sunday!! This was the beginning of the Chinatown Health Center—now the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. 

Tom also worked as the first patient advocate for the new Gouverneur Hospital along with the late Paul Ramos who founded the Betances Health Center in the early 1970’s.

Years later when I became a professor of social work at Hunter College Tom and I reconnected. He invited me to participate in one of the AAARI-CUNY Forums which was videotaped. He was a mover and shaker. He made a huge difference in the lives of so many New Yorkers. He was a bridge between the Chinese and other communities, and between the grassroots and the power structure. His contributions had a profound impact especially on new immigrants, students and vulnerable populations.

He will be missed, but hopefully others will pick up his baton. 

Terry Mizrahi, Professor Hunter College School of Social Work
Director, Education Center for Community Organizing


Sorry to know about Dr. Tam's illness and demise. Please convey Dr. Tam's family our condolences. - Umesh and Shailaja Nagarkatte


My condolences to Dr. Tam's family and the staff at AAARI. His untimely departure was a shock to me when I heard the news. He is a great man and leader, and I had the honor of working with him. - Phillip Li (former AAARI College Assistant)


Very deeply sad and sorry for his pass away. We respect and cherish his effort. - Guozhen Wu ( Friends of 70's in NY. Now in Beijing, China)


I can remember this old friend Thomas also, and we believe he will live in our hearts forever! With best regards to Thomas's family, Penchu Chou ( Old friend of 70s, now at Changchun University, China)


Tribute Essays, by Alvin Eng & Daryl Chin, Courtesy of Asian CineVision


I have known you for
six years, and now you are gone
Things are not the same
- Antony Wong


Dear Dr. Tam:

We will still remember you as a great leader for AARI and our communities. Your legacy will live forever in our hearts. I am so regret that I forget something recently. However, I will never forget that you have done so much for our communities.
- z chen (city)


Dr. Tam

Your wisdom, vision and friendship provided much strength over time. Thank you for all you have given. You will always be remembered for being an extraordinary and giving person.
- Melanie Bush (Brooklyn, NY)


Dear Thomas,

we thank you for all the good memories from forty years of friendship. You will remain in our hearts and prayers for ever.
Your Norwegian friends
- Elizabeth Billington Larsen (Oslo, Norway)


Dear Tom,

you have entered the next phase of your life and one day we all humans will experience the same change. You will remain in my prayers, especially because you helped me to reach the top hung of my career ladder at CUNY. Enjoy the loving care of our Father in Heaven for eternity.
- V.T. Alexander (Rockland, NY)


Tom: You lived during a period of great change and you helped bring about that change. Your legacy will be immortal. - Betty Lee Sung (New York, NY)


Dear Dr. Tam,

You haven't passed away. You've just changed. Your legacy will live forever in people's hearts, especially in mine. I am sure we'll see again one day.
 - James Lap (New York, NY)





Antony Wong

Dr. Thomas M.S. Tam
Foundation Donors
(As of 7/12/08)

Frances Bologna
Sondra W. Bennett
Teri Black
Melanie E.L. Bush
Chun Hung Chan
Po Ping Chan
Paul Chan
Wai Keen Chan
Susan Chan
Lan Lo Chan
Betty E. Chan
Grace Chan
Ngee-Pong Chan
Amy Cheng
Yu Min Cheng
Seung Leung Chew
Amy Chin
Loretta Chin
Rockwell Chin
Henry Chiu
John Cho
Cecilia C. Chu
Confucius Pharmacy Inc.
K. York Chynn
Po-Wai Do
Alvin Eng
Pranie L. Evernson
Shau-Wai & Marie Lam Family Foundation
Xuwu Feng
Maggie Fung
Joyce Gelb
Josephine Lau Ho
Susan Hom
Jacqueline Huey
Henry G. Hui
Ernest Jew
Hiroko Karan
Sandra Lee Kawano
Herbert L. Kee
Dorethy Kehl
John Ko
Anne C. Kong
Jerome Krase
Kui-Lam Kwok
Kwok's Trading Inc.
S. Lakshminarayanan
James Lap
Anna S. Lau
Angelina Lee
Benjamin T. Lee
Chester Lee
Chu Pin Lee
Corky Lee
Pamela C. Lee
Richard Lee
William Tung Yan Lee
Amelia Leung
Jean Leung
Allan Li
Phillip Li
Jian en Liang
Kao Ching Lin
Kai Yin Liu
Elizabeth E. Louie
Darrel K. Low
Timothy Lyons
Edward Ma
Ding Kwong Mak
Uday C. Naval
Weiming New
Paul C. Ng
Lucia Ng
Chi Lung Ngan
CA & Helen Ning
Jackson Ning
Susie Pak
Paula Sin
Wendell Su
Betty Lee Sung
Mei Juan Tan
Leonie S. Pan Ttee
Kyoko Toyama
Florence Tse
Yung Wan
Luisa Wang
Lin Ho Wong
Wai Wong
Rex Wong
Ying Wong
Gene Anthony Wong
Susan Wong
Kelly Wu
Rex. H. Wu
Yang Jiang Association of America, Inc.
Pak Tat Yip
Chen Shek Yu


Asian American / Asian Research Institute 2018

25 West 43rd Street, Room 1000, New York, NY 10036   
Phone: 212-869-0182 / 0187   
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