University of Calgary

Pay It Forward

Submitted by alumni on Thu, 11/05/2015 - 13:30.

Pay It Forward

Discover the impact the Ho family’s gift will have on law students — a gift that connects two continents with numerous students.
Colleen Donahue

Giving Spirit Has a Long Reach

The Ho family shares their appreciation for UCalgary Law through international studentships


Picture it: A 1970s Calgary apartment. Recent master’s degree recipients from the University of Hong Kong — Michael and Alice Ho — had just immigrated to Canada and were settling in to their first apartment in the Beltline, eager to start their careers in social work and forensic psychology, respectively.

“Their first place was full of unmatched furniture — an industrial wire spool served as their coffee table,” says their eldest son, Oliver, LLB’02. “Today, it would be retro; back then, it was two people relying on the kindness of neighbours to donate used furniture. They didn’t have a lot, but they wanted to create a sturdy base for starting a family in a brand-new country!”

They more than succeeded, though not following the path they had originally expected, as is so often the way with life.

Finding work in Michael’s field of study proved difficult, and so he decided to take on law school. “It was a novel thing at the time in Calgary,” says Oliver. Michael Ho stood proudly in the University of Calgary’s second graduating class in 1980, and quickly established his own law firm, Ho MacNeil, with partner, Steve MacNeil. He began a career of helping others, using law as the catalyst.

“I remember walking down the streets of Chinatown as a kid – or anywhere in Calgary, for that matter – and people would often stop my parents and thank them,” says Oliver. “They would turn to me and smile and say, ‘your father was the one who helped me get here. And Mom helped their brothers. And sisters. And children.”

That’s because Alice, too, found her way to the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law. A young mother of two, she left her career and returned to the classroom. As she did, Michael experienced a serious car accident that left him in a coma for three weeks and hospitalized for three months. He didn’t return to the practice of law.

“My mother is the strongest woman I know,” says Oliver.

“With no income, tuition to pay and two boys in elementary school, she just figured out a way to finish her law degree in 1988. And that’s when she stepped into my father’s law practice. Thirty-three years later, it’s still going strong.”

With such strong role models, it’s no surprise that Oliver, too, chose to join his parents in what he calls “a helping profession.

“My choice was easy,” says Oliver. “The University of Calgary gave my parents the opportunity to make their lives in this city. Our involvement in the law school allowed us to build our friendships and give back to community.”

The Ho family’s community-building efforts extend beyond Calgary and the four decades they’ve been here, however. Thanks to the family’s creation of the Michael, ’80, Alice, ’88, and Oliver Ho, ’02, International Studentships to Hong Kong at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, generations of students will gain valuable educational and life experiences while working toward their Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Newly married, Oliver and his wife, Paola, together with his parents, are pleased to be able to share in this way.

“We are at a stage in our lives and careers where we can say thank you to those who have helped us. We would not be where we are today without the law school and the Chinese community. The university accepted us and educated us. And, for that, we are grateful.” U

Together, the University of Calgary and its donors fuel transformational change by supporting student experiences to unleash potential; research outcomes to benefit society; and community connections to strengthen our ties. To learn more about the opportunities to make a difference by giving through the university, visit ucalgary.ca/campaign