His pen was an extension of his zealous and insatiable mind, that never stopped scrawling. That’s how I’ll remember my dear friend Gregory Tong. He had many passions in life, but it was his passion for civics that brought us together. We met at one of my public briefings on the Alvarian Cultural Framework. He attended three in total, and we spent many months exchanging thoughts on these deep topics. I was enamored by his perceptive insights and serene persona. He was constantly enthused, with a joyous smile that was never overstated, but never seemed to leave his face.
That grace is an uncommon feature in today’s society. We were kindred spirits in that regard, sharing the same virtues and values, so connection was very easy. He was not fond of television. He did not even own one until he was married, and he got rid of it when his beloved spouse passed on from cancer in 2008. He said that it brought mind-poison into his home – another sentiment that we shared. No wonder life was so magical to him, shielded from the cultural cacophony of nutty Californian scriptwriters. But not everything in California was anathema to Greg. He attended a magnet school for the gifted, and proceeded to Carnegie-Mellon at the beginning of his path in life as a polymath.
He housed those varied talents and skills within a five-foot-eight, thin Cantonese frame. His jet black hair never dangled passed his slightly-too-large wire rimmed glasses. He looked like a blend between Ho Chi Minh and Chiang Kai-shek, but his valorous and deep Christian goodness set him on the other side of the universe from those men in every other way. Greg ate heartily, loved herbal tea, but never drank alcohol or coffee. He tended to blend in, with a natural eccentricity in his persona that was only perceptible face-to-face. Indifferent to fashion, he wore the same blue or white plain long sleeve shirts with left side breast pockets housing two mechanical pencils. He wore black or navy casual pants, black Florsheim-type shoes, and a stainless steel wrist watch. His car was frugal as well, a grey Toyota commuter sedan. With such a vivid mind, there was no need for frivolous embellishments. He knew much about the Bible, Christianity, history, political science, education, business management, engineering, land use, water purification, food production, software systems, and nature.
Versatile knowledge and civics were not Greg’s only passion. Mayuree Tong, also known as “honeybun,” was the love of his life, and wife of twenty years. He talked about her every time we met, with joy and love leaping from his face whenever he spoke her name, and how they would someday be reunited in God’s presence. They lost their first child to a miscarriage, and Mayuree couldn’t have kids thereafter. They felt as if God had designed each for the other, and they grew closer to God through each other.
I know that Greg was an amazing husband, and a pleasure to live with, because he had mastered the seven virtues. People with his moral goodness are rare, and it certainly came out during a few intellectual arguments. As a doubting-Thomas, true to my namesake, seeing is believing. Contrarily, Greg thought about grand events and tectonic shifts in humankind. His ideas were fascinating, and despite our differences, his civility and virtue in every exchange was inspiring.
His congregation at McLean Bible Church described him as mild-mannered, quiet, thoughtful, and studious, with a Godly heart. Rob Thomson’s church group was a blessing to Greg after he lost Mayuree in 2008. The Wallwork family – Carol, Jim, Claire, and Molly – were dear to Greg and we shared some fond memories in their home. Any family would be proud to call him son, brother, or nephew. There was not an ounce of pettiness in his spirit, and much nobility.
When I see a person scrawling notes in the front row of a briefing, I’ll think of Greg, although I don’t think I’ll ever find his type of grace and zeal in that note-taking intellectual. Greg showed me the endurance of America’s forefathers across cultures, with his living example of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth, and embodiment of traditional American and Christian culture. I will miss the rare combination of gentleness, confidence, and zeal in his voice, which reminded me of my grandfather. He did great things for America with his talents, and humanity has lost one of its precious gifts this year, but heaven and Mayuree are much richer. I’m happy for them, and I’m grateful to have known Greg.