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lives lived

James Wong.

Thinker. Teacher. Conversationalist. Runner. Born July 30, 1955, in Hong Kong; died Dec. 4, 2016, in Waterloo, Ont., of colon cancer; aged 61.

At James's celebration of life, one of his colleagues and friends commented that, as a philosopher, James led an examined life – he stripped away all but the most important aspects: being loved, loving others and leaving the world a better place.

In 1967, James was 11 when his family moved to Canada from Hong Kong. They first arrived in Vancouver and then continued on to Toronto where his father's two good friends lived. Growing up in North York, he was the fourth of eight children and James often joked that dinnertime was a contest to see who would get the most to eat. Years later, when James brought his girlfriend, Susan, to dinner at the Wongs, James's mother served Peking duck. James made sure that Susan got enough to eat!

When they married in 1992, the couple settled in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Toronto. Here, James would impress his Italian neighbours with the language he learned while honeymooning in Italy with Susan's family.

The passion for lively conversation carried over to James and Susan's own dinner table. At dinner, they would talk for hours. James always loved a good argument. He joked that, as a philosopher, he was trained to argue. When their son, Martin, was born in 1993, he quickly learned that the dinner table was a sacred place. A passion for conversation has now passed on to Martin.

When someone asked James what he did for a living, he would reply: "I corrupt the minds of youth." He began his academic career in the sciences, but soon realized that his true love was in philosophy. He received a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto. James wrote his doctoral thesis, titled On the Very Idea of the Normal Child, around the time that his son was born – a true specimen for his research. In 1998, James moved to Waterloo and worked at Wilfrid Laurier University. There, he served as the Chair of the Communications, Philosophy, and Religion and Culture departments.

In Toronto, James was a part of a running club called the Ramones. James encouraged others in the University of Toronto club by telling them that running was simple: One only needed to tie their shoelaces up twice and then put one foot in front of the other. James ran eight marathons and countless 10-kilometre races and kept meticulous notes on all of his runs. When he was not able to run any more, walking became his passion but James's simple running formula is worth remembering as we confront life's many challenges.

James taught us many lessons and touched many lives. He loved jazz and classical music and followed more contemporary bands such as Belle and Sebastian and Arcade Fire to keep up with his university students.

He often stole a line from Elvis Costello in conversation. If someone asked him what he wanted for his birthday or for Christmas, he would say that he only wanted "peace, love and understanding." He truly meant it.

James' Chinese name – Kam Chiu – means "bright light," and his light will shine forever in the hearts and minds of his family and friends.

Susan Marchiori is James's wife.

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