“Any time we were at David’s apartment, the phone would be ringing non-stop,” recalls Walz. “He had a large dining room table that was always covered with invitations and we used to love to stand there and read through what he was being invited to.”
That table – which sat 10 comfortably – was also the setting for spirited dinner parties, which Lui held frequently, bringing together artists with business leaders, feeding them overdone roast beef and engaging them in conversation that sparked big ideas – and life-long friendships.
Lui had his fingers in many cultural pies over the years. He was a founding member of the B.C. Arts Council. He sat on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts. He founded the cultural program for the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival. He was involved, initially, in the cultural program for Expo 86. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 2000. “His name is synonymous with outstanding entertainment in Vancouver,” read the citation.
He sat on many boards, including The Dance Centre (now the Scotiabank Dance Centre) and The Dance Foundation.
“He always spoke his mind,” says Mirna Zagar, recalling her interview by the board to become The Dance Centre’s executive director. Lui wanted to know whether Zagar, who is from Croatia, thought her English was good enough, and also whether she was planning to have any more children. “Everyone was mortified,” laughs Zagar. “All the things you’re told not to ask in interviews, he did. I didn’t really mind, of course, but it did take me by surprise.”
In the years ahead – she got the job – she would collaborate frequently with Lui, who was never short of ideas or plans.
“There’s hardly a thing that still exists and is flourishing in the city’s cultural life that David didn’t have some influence or some role – and quite often a significant one – to play.”
During The Dance Centre’s construction, money was running short, so the board decided not to install the canopy the architect Arthur Erickson had envisioned for the rooftop patio.
“Arthur had considered [the canopy] critical and he was upset about that,” remembers Walz. “So David told Arthur: ‘I will raise the money to ensure the canopy goes on.’ ”
Lui wasn’t great at holding on to money himself, but he was a master at persuading others to give – or, as in this case, throwing swishy fundraising events – and with Walz, raised more than $100,000.
A few days after Lui’s 65th birthday in 2009, the canopied patio was renamed the David Y. H. Lui Roof Garden Haven.
Heaven help the person who didn’t include the “Y. H.” in Lui’s name. Not that he would disclose what the initials stood for, even to close friends, who would joke that perhaps it was “Your Highness” or “Yoo Hoo.”
When Walz discovered the truth a few years ago – he saw Lui’s full name printed on his hospital bracelet – Lui became quite upset, recalls Walz (who elected not to share the secret).
Lui had heart trouble for years; Belsher remembers hearing the ticking of Lui’s pacemaker in quiet theatres. And he also suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments.
He moved into a smaller, more manageable space in the Performing Arts Lodge, but he kept working, often falling asleep at his computer, and was not ready to give up his dream of bringing classical ballet to Vancouver. With Ballet BC focusing on contemporary works, Lui teamed up with Belsher to bring the National Ballet of Cuba to Vancouver next February with Don Quixote.
“We would go to meetings with people and he would say, ‘This might be my last kick at the can,’ ” says Belsher. “And here we are; it’s his last kick at the can.”
Belsher says the shows will go on, and will be dedicated to Lui’s memory.
Friends are heartbroken that Lui did not live to see the performances, but note that meeting legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso in preparation for the tour was an absolute thrill for him.
So was Ballet BC’s 25th anniversary celebration, which he attended with Orr last April. The occasion had him thinking back on the many highlights – and lowlights – of the company he helped found.
“We tried to do everything at Ballet BC,” Lui said shortly before the event. “So we can all go to the big theatre in the sky thinking that we tried, at least. And I don’t think you can ask any more of people.”
David Y. H. Lui leaves his brother, Philip, and sister-in-law, Ping.
A celebration of his life will be held on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. at The Playhouse.