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In Memory of LINDA PEI – The Girl Who Was Almost Left In China

Fond are my memories of days spent with Linda Pei at our American Community School and around Saigon. Linda and I were the Art Editors for the 1961 Gecko Year Book. We were, also the school Publicity Committee. Linda was voted “Most Intellectual” for the 1960/61 school year. Her goal in life back then was to become a concert violinist.

If not for her mother’s last second change of heart, Linda would have been left in China when she was a small child. Here’s an excerpt from an article Linda wrote telling the story of how she was almost left in China and the impact it had on her life.

“I feel passionately about women’s issues dating back to the personal indignity I experienced as a child. I was born in China in my Dad’s home village. When my mother gave birth to me, her third daughter, the relatives openly mocked her and said, ‘what good are you when you can’t even give birth to a son?’

“I didn’t hear that story until I was seven or eight years old. It made me feel that I had brought some shame upon my mother. Later, after my younger brother was born, my father was assigned to go to Japan to settle what the Japanese owed to China after World War II. While he was there the communists took over mainland China. My mother was allowed to leave and join her husband in Japan. As she was trying to escape China with four little kids, her relatives persuaded her to leave one child behind. I was the one chosen to be left behind because I was ‘the third daughter.’ At the last minute my mother changed her mind and I was thrown on board the last plane out of Shanghai.

“These insults made me believe that girls were dispensable. I think I have spent my life wanting to show my parents that I hope they didn’t regret not leaving me behind. I don’t want any woman to be left behind again.”

“All the time I was growing up, I tried very hard to be a good student … because I didn’t want them to regret taking me.”

Those stories, told to her when she was 8 years old, made her feel passionately about the discrimination still faced by women. So after she and her husband Jim Morris adopted two children in Hong Kong, she decided to do something to improve the world they’d enter.

Joe Keefe of PAX World Investments wrote this about Linda …

“Linda Pei – In Memoriam (1944 – 2007)

It is with profound sadness that we note the passing of Linda Pei, founder of the Women’s Equity Fund, who succumbed to cancer on December 27, 2007. It is also with profound affection and admiration that we celebrate Linda’s all too brief but consequential life.

Linda had a vision: that ordinary investors could advance the social and economic status of women by investing in companies that promote gender equality in the workplace. With that vision, she launched the Women’s Equity Fund in 1993.

Linda was also one of the first people to understand and articulate the financial case for gender equality:

“My conviction,” she wrote, “is that when companies treat women equitably, those companies are likely to exhibit superior long term profitability. Why is this the case? Because companies that embrace diversity have a much wider range of talent to choose from.”

It is from such simple insights that great ideas are born, and in the Women’s Equity Fund, Linda launched a great one. The Fund, she decided, would seek to invest in companies that promote women to top executive and director positions; that provide career development and training programs for women; that promote work/life balance; present positive images of women in their advertising, etc. Over time, Linda believed, the wisdom of investing in such progressive companies would become apparent, and I think time has proven her right.

In Linda’s view, you couldn’t really talk about sustainability, or corporate social responsibility, or socially responsible investing, unless women’s equality and empowerment were at the heart of the conversation. She understood that gender inequality is perhaps the greatest impediment to sustainable development around the world, and she set out to do something about it.

That she did.

Along the way, I was lucky enough to get to know Linda in the last years of her life. When I approached her a little over two years ago, as CEO of Pax World, to explore a partnership between our two firms, I did so because I believed in her idea – I believed in the Women’s Equity Fund. I didn’t know where it would lead, but upon meeting Linda, I knew that it would lead somewhere – and somewhere good. We became friends, and I only wish we could have been friends for a longer time.

We have included below a brief excerpt from a piece Linda wrote about her childhood experiences in China, and how they shaped her vision for the Women’s Equity Fund. One cannot help but be moved – by her experiences and by her vision.

The Women’s Equity Fund is now part of the Pax World family, so we have both a unique opportunity and a unique obligation to honor Linda’s legacy and promote her vision. That we intend to do – in her memory, and on behalf of the women and young girls everywhere whose lives she sought to touch.”

The following was published in the San Francisco Chronicle January 17, 2008

Linda C.Y. Pei Passed away peacefully on December 27 after a four month battle with liver cancer. She was 63. Linda is survived by her husband Jim Morris and their two children Kevin and Kristine; her two sisters, Jashio and Susan and brother, Jack. Linda was a long time resident of Tiburon, California. Linda Pei was born in China in 1944 and grew up in Tokyo where her father was stationed with the Taiwanese government after the war. When she was 16 her parents, then living in Vietnam, sent her to the United States for schooling. She graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in chemistry, earned a masters degree in teaching from Wesleyan University and an MBA in Finance from Stanford University. Linda and her husband lived at various times in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Zurich. Upon returning to the Bay Area from Hong Kong, she co-founded the Women’s Equity Mutual Fund in 1993 (now the Pax World Women’s Equity Fund). Linda was president of FEMMX Financial, the Funds investment manager. She was a dedicated advocate for women in business, and the Fund reflected her strong convictions by investing in companies that support women in the workplace. Linda was active in the socially responsible investment community and spoke at numerous conferences and events on behalf of women and their role in the financial system. Linda was also an active parent in the children’s schools, serving on various committees, both at the Chinese American School and San Francisco University High School. In 1998 she was honored by the California State Senate and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as recipient of the Asian Business League of San Francisco’s Distinguished Entrepreneur Award. She served on the Board of Alumnae Resources and the Global Fund for Women Advisory Committee. A Memorial Service for Linda was held on Jan. 12 at the Tiburon Westminster Presbyterian Church. The family asks that any gifts in Linda’s memory be made to Hospice by the Bay or the American Cancer Society.

A few days ago I received this in an email from Saigon Kid Bruce Thomas …

The new addition to the website is a nice touch, Bob. I hope you become aware of more written works of Saigon Kids to put thereon. It was in the spirit of looking for more books to recommend to you that I said to myself, “Now who might I investigate for having authored something?” And of course, it isn’t a very large group from which to start looking. But then I remembered: I’d found her through the Internet several years ago, out in the Bay Area of California. If anyone had written a book, certainly she would have. “She” being the older sister (and my classmate at ACS) of my best friend, Jack Pei — Linda Pei. In fact, it was the appearance of her name on the list of prospective attendees at the 2009 ACS Reunion that had helped set me on the road to thinking seriously of going to that reunion (even though circumstances later kept me from attending — and I later noticed that she didn’t end up going to Saigon, either). When I had first made email contact with Linda, she told me that Jack had been seriously ill. She herself had become successful in business. I found entries on the Internet that documented her success.

So, sure that Linda must have some written work that I could ferret out for you to add to The Book Store on Tu Do Street, just now I put “Linda Pei” into Google and hit the “Enter” key. Boy, what a bummer. The item at the top of the list was headed “Linda Pei — In Memoriam (1944-2007)” — I don’t know if Linda ever wrote a book, but at the article is a short autobiographical story the likes of which I’d never known about her. Until now, about all I knew concerning the Pei family was that their father was in banking, they’d moved to Saigon from Tokyo, and they lived in a second-floor apartment not far from Saigon’s Central Market.

I hope there are other Saigon Kids who will join me in remembering Linda Pei — may she rest in peace.

I don’t know if Linda ever became a concert violinist as was her dream when I knew her in Saigon. But, I do know she – followed her bliss – as Joseph Campbell would say, leaving the world a better place then she found … after she was almost left in China.

With my fond memories of Linda, tucked away in the back pages of my mind, I join with you Bruce in remembering Linda, as I’m sure all Saigon Kids who had the pleasure of knowing her do also.

As always, you are welcome to leave your Comments below.

Bob


9 comments to In Memory of LINDA PEI – The Girl Who Was Almost Left In China

  • Ken

    This is a great entry and I wish that I would have know Linda as she sounds like a wonderful person.

    I hope that as our former school mates leave this good earth, that others will let us all know so we can all mourn there passing. I knew that Terry Coleman was no longer with us but I had no inkling of why he left us so early…only to learn it was because of his contribution in the 9/11 recovery work.

    We are all coming of that age when we have more behind us that we will have in front of us. Enjoy your time, be good, be healthy and stay in touch. Hugs – Ken

  • Sarah Rogers

    Oh my goodness, it is so sad to find a Saigon Kid too late to hug and welcome to the fold. While Linda and I were not real close (she was a good student and I was a party girl..), it is a sad way to find one of our own.
    At least it sounds as all those studies came in real handy in her life and helped make her a success.
    Sarah

  • Ruth Matteson Blackmore

    I was very disturbed to hear about Linda’s passing and proud to hear of her many accomplishments. I’m sure our paths might have crossed at some conferences on social justice or socially responsible investing as I spent 20 years with The Needmor Fund, a progressive funder for social justice organizing and a leader for socially responsible investing. Having arrived in Saigon in January 1961 in the last semester of my senior year, I didn’t know Linda that well, but was truly looking forward to getting to know her at the 2009 Saigon Reunion. I was wondering why she didn’t come, but never thought to check things out. I was truly moved by her life experiences and thought about her a great deal after reading the news. Maybe making a contribution to a worthy cause in Linda’s home town would be fitting or maybe a contribution to a worthy cause in Saigon in memory of all the former Saigon Kids would be something to do at the 2012 Reunion.

    Not only should her mother have been proud of her, but I’m sure we all are.

    Ruth

  • Frank

    I have been in a reflective mood all week. Three years ago my sister Jane died. Yesterday morning, when I read the news about Linda, I was very saddened. I went down to the living room and turned up the song “Only The Good Die Young” (I always turn to music!). I’m home alone this weekend for Susan is over in Phoenix house sitting for our oldest daughter…. so I blared the music out!
    I listened to it five times and went back upstairs and emailed the Blog about Linda to several people I know. Two teachers wrote back and said they are going to use Linda’s story in their classes. Another person, an elderly retired man, who I think is in his 80’s, wrote me the following email. I think he says it all.

    “Charles,
    I just read the long message about that most remarkable Linda Pei. First, thanks for sending it all. Second, how lucky you were to have known her. Her life illustrates how many great souls there are all around us that go unrecognized that arise when we least expect them. Third, I’m forwarding this to my long list. I have no idea how many will read it through, but at least they will have a chance to know a powerful woman if only through your long message. How sad that she had to die so young. With the strength she carried with her from early childhood we must believe that she still had much to offer. I hope this story moves on through the system touching other young women and inspiring them to follow Linda. There is so much that is “ugly and infuriating” in the mass media’s shoddy reality entertainment, so exploitive of men & women that the Linda’s in our midst are often ignored. But her example could move young women — and men as well, to be perfectly honest — to go for better things. So thanks,
    Yours,
    Joe G”

    Thank You Joe!

    As some of you know, I retired sometime ago, but often sub at the high school. Right now I’m subbing for a lady that is out on maternity leave. Do you remember when women had to quit their job when their pregnancy started showing? When I started college, 20% of the freshman classes were women, and even less at the upper level. Girls could only go to class in dresses or shirts. The girl’s dorms had strict curfew rules; the boy’s dorms had none. Girl’s sports were almost non-existent. Even when I read the old Gecko’s I often note where boys future career expectations are at a different level … and where girls are defined to the old acceptable traditional roles.
    I must say however … I have been amazed when I see and hear about the Saigon Kids…. especially the girls (women). What accomplishments so many have made! I was thrilled to read about Linda and how she was able to show through diversity that so much more positive things could happen. I am sad for her passing because I cannot talk to her …… and it reminds me of my own immortality. I hope her family is doing well … Frank

    • Admin

      Frank – Thank you for the wonderful comments you left, and for sending this Post out to folks. Perhaps the email you started will spread at the speed of light around the globe as often happens with email forwardings – and others will be inspired by our kind gentle friend and classmate, Linda – continuing her legacy. I can’t think of a better way to pay our respects to Linda then spreading “her vision” around the world though the power of the Internet – and, in so doing continuing her legacy as she reaches out to “touch” and “inspire” others to “follow their bliss” and leave the world a better place than they found it … 🙂

      Perhaps ALL our Saigon Kids will follow your lead and email Linda’s story to everyone on their email list asking that it be forwarded on … and on … and on … touching and inspiring people as it travels though cyber space 🙂

      We’ve often talked about giving something back to the world that we’ve known as Saigon Kids; and, has given us so much enrichment in our lives — what better way then a Saigon Kids email tribute to Linda Pei?

      Bob

  • Frank

    I forgot to say my “lack of” immortality. Really thinking that what Linda has given us will make her live on!

  • Bruce Thomas

    It’s wonderful to hear how Linda Pei’s life story has resonated with even those who did not know her in Saigon. I found two pictures of her on the Internet that help to remind me of our days together as sophomores at the school. For Linda, her recent photos look hauntingly like the beautiful person I knew nearly 50 years ago.

    One photo accompanies the memorial tribute posted after her death at the end of 2007 from which Bob quoted, and can be viewed by CLICKing HERE

    Another photo that I found online, posted in a Picasa album, was taken in 2007, not long before her death, when she attended the 40th reunion of her class at Brown University. CLICK HERE to view.

    This summer, in an online posting at the Brown alumni website, there’s a short news item about the “Linda Pei Undergraduate Research Grant” created in her memory — “This grant supports research related to issues of women’s financial empowerment and honors the life of classmate Linda Pei, who died in 2007. The inaugural recipient is Debbie Lehmann ’10. Linda founded the Women’s Equity Mutual Fund in 1993 to advance the social and economic status of women in the workplace by bringing to bear the collective power of individual and institutional investors. The Pei grant was established in 2008 thanks to the efforts of our classmate Carol Lemlein and the Brown University Club of Southern California Women’s Committee. It is administered through the Pembroke Center.”

    • Admin

      Bruce – I noticed it too, while researching Linda, that in her most recent pictures she looks just like she did back at ACS years ago. Particularly her eyes and facial expression.

      Thanks for the additional information about Linda’s efforts. There are a lot of things I came across when researching her that I did not mention in the original Post. Her list of accomplishments goes on and on and on …

      If any of you want a shot of inspiration just Google her name and start reading.

      Bob

    • In the years since I posted the message above, the first link given, to a memorial article about Linda Pei, has gone awry and the picture of her has been lost.

      But I’ve found another copy of it published in the March/April 2008 issue of the alumni magazine for Brown University in an article about Linda (Dodging the Glass Ceiling), shortly after Linda’s death in December 2007. At the end of the article it’s noted that Linda’s son Kevin was a member of Brown’s class of ’10.

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