A single lollipop brought Philip Lee to Canada.
He was just four years old then, a Hong Kong kid attending a school run by the missionaries of the Immaculate Conception of Montreal.
One day, after he'd aced a few grade-school tasks, one of the French-Canadian nuns rewarded him with a sucker. It was a lesson in Canadian kindness and confectionery he would never forget.
"In those days, I didn't know what Canada was, but that made a good impression," recalls Mr. Lee, seated before heaping dim sum bowls at the Golden Terrace restaurant in Winnipeg's Chinatown, a place where he's informally known as "the mayor."
"A sucker was so rare in those days. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to know more about this country."
ON Aug 4, Canada will reward Mr. Lee again, but with something far sweeter than candy. At around 3 p.m., the onetime Catholic schoolboy walked down the Manitoba Legislature's grand staircase and proceeded outside to a 15-gun salute and two renditions of the viceregal salute - the pomp announcing the province's new lieutenant-governor.
"If I told you I was expecting this, I'd be lying," he says between bites of shrimp dumpling. "Even when I knew I was in the running, I didn't have any expectation of being a successful candidate."
Lieutenant-governors are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, but local lobbying plays an important factor. Provincial Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen first raised the idea of nominating Mr. Lee for the job earlier this year, but suggested the chances were small.
It just so happens that Mr. Lee, who was born in 1944, is at his best against the odds. A modest, city-employed chemist by trade, he's spent his nearly five decades in Manitoba as one of the Chinese community's most influential figures.
Since moving to Winnipeg in 1962, he has been the catalyst for asserting Chinatown's cultural, political and architectural presence in the city. He drove the construction of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, the Chinese Gate and Garden, and the Mandarin Building. As well, he's held leadership roles on the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, the Winnipeg Refugee Assistance Committee and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Shortly after hearing he had a shot at becoming lieutenant-governor, Mr. Lee attended an event in the spring, where he chatted with the likes of Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, Speaker of the House George Hickes and Winnipeg Police Chief Keith McCaskill. During small talk, he would casually drop details of his nomination.
The next day, Mr. McFadyen's chief of staff gave Mr. Lee an excited call. "He told me that my popularity had mysteriously gone up overnight," Mr. Lee recalls. "I was closer and closer to becoming the front-runner."
Mr. Lee first learned the secrets of persuasion in Hong Kong. His initial breakthrough came at the age of 6, when he persuaded his devoutly Buddhist parents to let him convert to Catholicism. "There was quite a bit of resistance," he says. "But they eventually came around."
The French-Canadian nuns encouraged Mr. Lee to attend Wah Yen College, a private high school run by stern Irish Jesuits. He was put in charge of serving mass, a complicated role that involved directing the other altar boys to ring bells, assist with communion and stay disciplined. "That gave me a lot of exposure to being in charge, and trained me to be a future leader," he says. "I learned never to order people around, but to coach them. Boys of 13 and 14 don't respond well to orders."
When he moved to Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba, he fell into leadership roles immediately, despite an accent that contained hints of Chinese, French and Irish.
He intended to return to Hong Kong after completing his chemistry degree, but a riot in Hong Kong blocked his passage. So he decided to settle down in Winnipeg and sent for a fetching girl he'd met back home.
"It was January, minus 30, and I landed in Winnipeg airport wearing a miniskirt," Anita Lee recalls. "But everyone was so friendly I just fell in love with the city."
So did her husband. Since then, he's befriended premiers and billionaires, vagabonds and refugees.
"I have a wide window of friendship," he says over the clanging plates of a lunch-hour crowd. "And you must treat them as friends. If you meet someone and immediately ask for favours, you lose it. If they are friends, and they see you are in need, they will help. You never ask directly for favours."
The width of his Rolodex became evident in mid-June, when his appointment was finally announced. The congratulatory calls haven't let up.
"More than 300 now," Ms. Lee says. "He talked to so many that his throat is sore."
He has yet to firm up his goals for the new job, which usually lasts five years, other than to say he'll push the city and the province to be more accessible to the physically challenged and the blind.
"My daughter is visually impaired," the father of three daughters says. "So I'm particularly sensitive to having equal treatment in society. And now I'll have the constitutional power to persuade politicians that they should at least pay more attention. Canada is a nation of equal opportunity. Just look at me."