Published by the University of Hong Kong


In memory of Dr. Doris Lai-Chue CHEN (née KWOK), 1929-2012

It is with profound sadness that we inform the university community of the passing of our beloved former colleague and a teacher of numerous generations of HKU undergraduates in mathematics, Dr. Doris Lai-Chue CHEN (née KWOK), on 3 June 2012, in Cheshire, UK, at the age of 82. About two months ago she was diagnosed with a tumour in the brain while she was on a visit to her son, William, in Australia. Among the sadness it is a little comfort to know that she passed away peacefully apparently with no pain.

Dr. Chen obtained her B.Sc. degree from the Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, in 1949. Later that year, she proceeded to King's College, University of London, for postgraduate work under the supervision of Professor J.G. Semple in the area of algebraic geometry, and obtained her Ph.D. degree in 1955. She was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics of HKU in 1953 by the then Head and Chair of Mathematics, the late Professor Y.C. Wong. She was promoted to a Lectureship in 1960 and served the Department with all her heart until she took retirement in 1985 at the age of 55.

For many generations of undergraduates in mathematics from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s Dr. Doris Chen was a symbol of elegance and culture, and a person full of warmth and kindness. Forty-six years later one colleague reminisced about his first meeting with Dr. Chen and wrote in the 70th anniversary volume of the HKU Faculty of Science, "[The] second class of that first day was a lecture on mathematics, [...] Right on the dot a lady dressed in an elegant Chinese "cheung-sam" entered the lecture theatre. She marched down the aisle to the front, flanked by two young teaching assistants. [...] She looked around with a smile and began lecturing and writing on the blackboard. She was Dr. Doris Chen, [...]". To many female students Dr. Chen was also held as a role model, being the only woman mathematician on the faculty since the early 1950s, until the next woman mathematician, Professor J.H. Lu who is currently the Head of Department, joined the faculty of HKU in 2002.

The book Elementary Set Theory Dr. Chen wrote jointly with Dr. K.T. Leung, which grew out of the careful and lucid lecture notes they wrote up in the early 1960s and was published in 1967 by the HKU Press, has been a must on the reading list of every undergraduate in mathematics in the 1960s to the 1990s, including a host of school pupils in matriculation classes of the 1970s and 1980s.

Dr. Doris Chen was a dedicated and caring teacher who always delivered clear and well-prepared lectures, writing beautifully and swiftly on the blackboard but pausing at strategic moments to let the class chew over what was just explained. Many students will remember fondly the characteristic smile she wore on her face whenever these moments came up. Some would recall, half-jokingly years later, that this was a moment of anxiety and apprehension but at the same time admit that it was also a moment they realized they should pay attention to and treasured it even after graduation. Dr. Doris Chen will be dearly remembered by those who knew her as a teacher, a colleague, a friend.

Dr. Chen is survived by her husband Shou Lum, their two sons William and John, daughter-in-law Lily and two grandchildren Abigail and Samuel. William, like his mother, is a mathematician.

Department of Mathematics, University of Hong Kong

8 June 2012