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(September 7, 2000, Gazette)

Dr. Leonard Lye
Just doing it

By Susen Johnson

Photo by Chris Hammond

Unlike most people, Dr. Leonard Lye actually lives by the “mission
statement” he has taped to his office wall:

Whatever you can do,
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius,
power and magic in it.

The chair of Civil Engineering at Memorial, Dr. Lye goes above and beyond his teaching, research and administrative responsibilities. Since moving to St. John’s 12 years ago, Dr. Lye has started the St. John’s Taoist Tai Chi Society of Canada and the local chapter of the TETRA society, has achieved success as a provincial doubles badminton champ, and has even found time to coach junior high badminton and basketball.

So who is this marvel of energy?

Born in Sabah, Malaysia, Dr. Lye is the son of a prominent Malaysian politician from a Chinese background, sent away with his older sister to a military-style boarding school in Taiwan in 1968, ostensibly to learn Mandarin Chinese, although the family didn’t speak it at home.

His grand-aunt, passing through Taiwan on holidays a year later, took pity on Dr. Lye and his sister and rescued them from the school, taking them to live with her in Singapore until they completed their education.

Following high school, Dr. Lye got a scholarship to study at the Bolton Institute of Technology (now Bolton University) in Manchester, England, which lead to a job back in Malaysia as a civil engineer in charge of construction of the first hydroelectric power station. He followed this up with marriage in 1981, and then moved his new family to Manitoba to pursue his doctorate in 1983.

In 1987, Lye won his position at Memorial.

However, Lye found one thing missing in St. John’s – the relaxing martial art of Tai Chi that he had picked up while living in Manitoba. So, with his wife, Dr. Lye started a local chapter of the non-profit charitable organization to teach the low-impact exercise to members of the local
community. Since then, Taoist Tai Chi has spread to Conception Bay South, Corner Brook, and Grand Falls, and boasts hundreds of members.

“It’s hard to injure yourself doing Tai Chi,” Dr. Lye explains. “Even people who are traditionally excluded from exercise can do it.”

Then in 1996, Dr. Lye got “distracted.”

Happening upon an article in McLean’s about the TETRA Society of North America – an international volunteer group whose goal is to create or modify assistive-living devices for people with
disabilities – Lye once again decided to pitch in.

“When I read this I thought ‘wow, I don’t think we have one of these in Newfoundland.’ And I was sure I could round up a whole bunch of volunteers here in the Faculty of Engineering to do this stuff. It’s an ideal place to have it.”

Since 1996, Dr. Lye has managed to recruit over 30 volunteers to the group, which meets monthly. As TETRA’s only Engineering Faculty-based chapter, the group has completed more than 10 projects to date and has another 10 or so ongoing.

“You make use of your own creative powers,” Dr. Lye explained of the group’s appeal, “and you are helping somebody who is in great need. Most of them have already exhausted their resources; their therapists can’t help them or they’ve searched the world for a product that just isn’t available.”

Dr. Lye has also found time to excel on the local sports scene, winning the provincial championship in men’s doubles in the masters category in 1993 (with partner Suraj Wadhawan of Newtel), and coming in as runners up in the provincial open last fall. “Suraj was the Atlantic region champ in the 1970s, and he’s in the hall of fame,” Lye clarifies modestly, “so I don’t have to do that much.”

But of course, Dr. Lye’s first love is teaching.

“I’ve always loved teaching. When you work in industry, the person you benefit is your boss, but when you teach, you benefit hundreds at one time, year after year.”

Proud father to a girl who is going away to university this fall (“I’ll finally get my car back!”) and a boy who’s in high school, Dr. Lye laughs when asked how he enjoys parenting teenagers. “I don’t! Everything I say is wrong. I don’t know anything.”

But the professor – who also coaches junior high badminton and basketball – will admit that the experience lends him a better understanding of his students.

Happily settled in St. John’s for the foreseeable future, Dr. Lye plans to stay here until retirement. “Having lived in or visited so many countries, I still feel that St. John’s is the best place to live. You feel safe, there’s no traffic jams, and it’s easy to meet people.

“And when you want to start something, you just start it. People rally around.”

Anybody who would like to get in touch with Dr. Lye about TETRA can call him at 737-8933, email or visit the Web site Inquiries about Taoist Tai Chi can be directed to the society number 364-5276.