C.H. William (Bill) Cheung celebrated with 2020 Alumni Service Award

Retired real estate lawyer donated decades of volunteerism to university and community

Helen Metella - 17 September 2020

At several key points in his life, alumnus C.H. William Cheung asked himself, “if you can do it, why not?” — and the effects of that philosophy are now being honoured with a University of Alberta Alumni Service Award for 2020.

The award recognizes alumni who have demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment, dedication and volunteer service to the University of Alberta.

Cheung earned his LLB at the Faculty of Law in 1986. But before and after that milestone, he has filled his life to the brim with volunteer service and commitment, much of it for the benefit of UAlberta.

Since 2005, he served multiple terms on the university’s Alumni Council, its Board of Governors and its Senate, retiring from the latter in June 2020. His advice has also contributed to the success of a UAlberta program offering professional development to Chinese university administrators, and for many years he helped international students from Hong Kong acclimate to life on campus and in Edmonton.

“I know how to work with people and I was quick to recognize the issues,” says Cheung, who devoted countless evenings and weekends to reading background materials while working on university affairs. That dedication springs from the advice of one of his former law professors, now the Hon. Ellen Picard, OC, retired justice of the Court of Appeal of Alberta.

“She said, ‘In our career, you have to do it right the first time because there is no second chance.’ That really, really hit me. I had to make sure to work harder.”

Community Work

Beyond the university community, Cheung’s volunteer activities have been equally prodigious. For 30 years, he was involved with the Canadian Bar Association in roles ranging from chairperson of the Northern Alberta Immigration Section to member of the International Development Committee. Over the same period, he volunteered as a member, an arbitrator and director for international trade organizations in Canada and China.

For the Chinese community of Edmonton, his list of volunteer activities is longer than many people’s professional resumés. Since settling in Edmonton in 1979, Cheung has provided legal advice and board membership to more than two dozen cultural organizations. Among his many accomplishments, he was a founding member of the Edmonton Chinese Lions in 1980 and helped establish Chinese bilingual instruction in the city’s public schools, now the most extensive program in North America, with 12 schools participating.

All of this was in addition to a 32-year career practising real estate, immigration and corporate/commercial law, and a four-year career as a real estate broker prior to that.

His drive to assist others is a response to his modest upbringing and to many kindnesses shown to him by others as he completed an exchange year in California during first degree, and later his LLB, says Cheung. The eldest of seven children, he was born in China but raised in Hong Kong, in frugal circumstances. After 10 years as a social worker, he emigrated to Canada with his wife because of the political uncertainty prevalent as Britain prepared to return Hong Kong to China.

Why Not, Again?

In Edmonton, property development was flourishing, so Cheung said, “why not real estate?” and delved into a new career. While carrying out his duties, he accompanied many clients to lawyers’ offices to learn how things were done. Soon he asked, “why not join their ranks?”

Now 73 years old, Cheung continues assisting his communities. After retiring from practising law in 2018, he became a life member of the Law Society of Alberta, an honour only extended to those without professional complaints in their history. He also became a member of the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association and sits on its program development committee.

“Goodwill will bounce back, either through other people or by itself,” says Cheung. “That’s my belief.”

While the University of Alberta Alumni Awards ceremony is traditionally hosted during Alumni Weekend in September, due to the pandemic the 2020 Alumni Awards are postponed to February or March.