I cannot visit Vietnam without thinking about Hoa. Arriving at the airport makes me recall similar moments on route to see her in hospital or celebrate her life. The city itself brings back even more memories – of her favorite food, of the bustle in which she grew up, of laughter. It is over four years since her body has left us, but her spirit still lives on, in the community of people who she touched and in her legacy.
Many of her friends were on hand during the January 2015 Hanoi trip. The occasion was to honor Professor Fred Z. Brown, who was given the Friendship and Peace Award from the Vietnamese government. This is an honor he greatly deserved, as an important interlocutor in the bilateral relationship and a champion for mutual understanding. The event was organized by his former students, led by Professor Markus Taussig, Thủy Nguyễn and others. At the young age of his many years, Professor Brown shared his wisdom on US-Vietnam relations, past and present, and reminded those in attendance of the importance of investing in people, particular in education and cultural exchanges. The room was filled with his former students and colleagues, many now senior diplomats, and with even a few of these now retired. Across multiple generations, the bonds of sharing knowledge and promoting understanding were on display. Warm congrats to Fred!
Hoa was there too. She was mentioned in the events, on personal and broader symbolic levels. She continues to embody the spirit of friendship. A number of her classmates travelled for the occasion – Trinh, Pinsuda, Ai Ghee. It was wonderful to catch up, to see how successful they have become in their careers and in their lives. Hoa was remembered – with good fun and good food.
Hoa’s legacy has also taken root. The SAIS Hoa Fellowship Fund that Professor Brown initiated has brought Vietnamese to SAIS, with the first recipient, Bui Hong Hanh (right with me), back home in Hanoi after her fruitful time at SAIS in 2014. To honor Fred and remember Hoa, our (Andrei and myself) year’s donation in her memory has been given to the Hoa Fellowship fund, which we hope will grow and allow more Vietnamese to follow in footsteps in a search for knowledge and friendship.