Remembering Jay Chen, Mentor and Friend
By: Jackie Bong-Wright
A day after Jay Chen’s memorial service on February 5, I traveled to visit my husband, Lacy, assigned for a short period to work at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos. After over 20 hours of non-stop flight from Dulles airport to Seoul, Korea, then on to Bangkok, Thailand, I was exhausted. My short sleep at the airport hotel after arriving at midnight was cut short due to changes in time zone. But at 2 a.m., I suddenly woke up and couldn’t think of anything but Jay. He had been constantly in my thoughts and prayers ever since I learned of his grave condition.
I wanted to record the fond memories I have of Jay. Even 10,000 miles away from Washington, I still feel so close to him and his family.
I remember the first time I met Jay, in mid-1995 at an Asian Pacific American (APA) event. Knowing that I was active as a community organizer, he asked me to write about APAs and, especially, Vietnamese events in the Washington area. I’d never thought of being a newspaper writer, but I sent in a couple of articles, which Jay published. He encouraged me to write more and assisted me in attending media training workshops, not only as a print media writer, but also as a radio and TV correspondent.
It’s 2 p.m. of February 9, and I’m now continuing these reminiscences from Vientiane, Laos.
After 16 years working with Jay, I realize that my secondary job in the media had become the primary source of my inspiration and aspiration, thanks to Jay. He initiated me into the profession and motivated me to become a confident media correspondent. He had always considered me a partner and colleague, and also a personal friend. At one point, he even called and asked me to find a Vietnamese spouse for him.
Jay was a gentleman, and a handsome, honest, kind-hearted human being. I was so happy when he found the beautiful Lucia to be his soul mate. They were made for each other; they fit together as pieces in life’s puzzle.
Jay was a very considerate person. When Asian Fortune was given an award as an outstanding APA paper, he received the plaque, then insisted on handing it to me to hold for the photo op. He wanted to share the award with me, as the youngest in the profession and the most senior in age, and with first-rate writers such as Jennie Ilustre, the late Mercy Tira Andrei and Rita Gerona Adkins. He told me later that the writers were the most important part of the paper, and that we deserved all the honor. Jay was indeed an honorable man.
At his memorial service, we grieved with his family and the community leaders and members who paid their last respects to him. I vowed to continue writing for the paper as long as Lily, Jay’s daughter, carried on Jay’s life passion, Asian Fortune.
Today, as soon as I arrived in Vientiane, Laos, I went with my husband straight from the airport to a Buddhist temple and prayed for Jay’s soul. I know that he was up there, looking after his family, his loyal colleagues and dear friends, smiling.