With great sadness, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law announces the passing of our colleague and friend, Professor Betty Mayfoon Ho. Betty suffered a severe stroke in Beijing on Aug. 20, from which she never regained consciousness. She was deeply loved by the many people whose lives she touched, including hundreds of students whom she mentored and nurtured in a teaching career that spanned 25 years.
Betty was a trailblazer in many ways. One of six siblings, Betty risked disappointing her parents by declining to take over the family’s book publishing business. Instead, she immigrated to Canada at age 25 with a master’s degree in Asian studies. Unable to find work with employers who told her she was over-educated and under-skilled, Betty entered U of T’s law school to ensure financial security and freedom at a time when she was one of the few non-white students. After graduating with an LLB in 1977, Betty practised international commercial law, first in Canada and later in Hong Kong.
In 1988, she decided to follow her true calling in the world of academia. She began teaching at the University of Hong Kong, where she quickly developed a reputation as one of China’s most sophisticated scholars in corporate, commercial, and financial law. Her goal was to help develop a comprehensive and thoughtful account of Anglo-Saxon law as a reference for the Chinese in drafting their new laws. She accomplished just that, publishing seminal books which helped build the foundations of an indigenous legal literature in China.
Betty was deeply committed to the development of the rule of law in China, and in 2002, she moved to Beijing to join the Tsinghua University School of Law, where she believed that she would have the opportunity to teach the future leaders of her country. At Tsinghua, Betty designed and implemented an innovative program that uses Anglo-American legal methods to teach JD students common law and comparative commercial law — the first and only program of its kind in China. She considered her Tsinghua students to be the brightest and most promising in the country, and she wanted to provide them with a transformative legal education. Not surprisingly, they revered her.
Betty maintained close ties with the University of Toronto Faculty of Law throughout her career, teaching a number of intensive courses over the years in the Chinese legal system and Chinese banking law. In 2008, we were able to persuade Betty to become a member of our full-time faculty, although she continued to teach at Tsinghua each summer. She threw herself into our community with great enthusiasm, earning spectacular teaching reviews, serving on committees, participating in workshops, supervising graduate students, and generally making us wonder how we had ever got on without her.
But none of these achievements really capture the essence of Betty. Though tiny in stature, she was an absolute force — she crackled with energy and sparkled with the joy of living a life of principle and purpose. She was amazing, and we were privileged to know her, if only for far too short a time. She will be deeply missed.
Dean Mayo Moran is the dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. This article was originally posted on the law school’s web site on Sept. 3, 2010.