Lying in a California hospital as an 88-year-old man, my father said to me, “I think this is it, Son… I have one final wish…”

I leaned in closer, nervously compliant. I thought he might say something like “Tell your mother how much I love her,” or “Tell your brother I’m so proud of him,” or even “You’re the greatest son in the world.” But it was none of those things.

His message was:

“Make sure my obituary is in the Daily Progress. And also, bring my wallet home; there’s $30 in it.”

“Me: Yes, of course — Ba Ba (that’s Chinese for Dad).”

Initially, I was confused by his request, wondering how he could think about his obituary in his final moments. But now, after his passing, I look back at that moment and understand and appreciate it. You see, The Daily Progress is the local newspaper of Charlottesville, Virginia, and for our family, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia hold a special place. I think he really wanted to share his story with the place he loved.

My father, Ching-hsien Huang, moved to Charlottesville in 1967 as a Visiting Assistant Professor for the University of Virginia’s Biochemistry Department. This was a significant opportunity for him. My Dad graduated from Tunghai University in 1959 and was recognized as the top student in all of Taiwan. He received scholarship offers for his Ph.D. at every school in the US, from Ivy League universities to MIT. He selected Johns Hopkins as they were able to cover his travels back home to visit his family. He was one of nine children, and his father, General Huang Bai Tao, a key military figure under Chiang Kai-shek, played a crucial role in the chaotic and war-torn era of early 20th century China. Known for his strategic brilliance, he was right at the front lines during some of the most critical battles of the Chinese Civil War. It wasn’t just his tactics that made him stand out; it was his leadership and the respect he commanded.

Chiang Kai-shek and General Huang Bai Tao

But life, as it often does, threw a curveball. General Huang’s life ended way too soon, marking not just a personal tragedy for my family but also symbolizing a turning point in China’s history. His story didn’t just end with his military achievements; it continued in the strength and resilience he passed down to his family. They carried his legacy across oceans. His family of nine fled China and moved to Taiwan, and my father concentrated all of his energy towards academics with the hope of moving to the United States for a better life and more opportunities.

1949 ports in Taiwan as people fleed China

So, after my Dad received his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins and the opportunity came up at UVA in 1967, it was one he did not take for granted. There weren’t many Asian professors in the United States, and none at the University of Virginia. For reference, women weren’t even allowed to attend UVA until 1970. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the National Origins Formula, a policy that had previously imposed severe restrictions on immigration from Asia and other non-European regions. As a result of this Act, there was a significant increase in immigration from Asia and various other parts of the world, leading to a substantial change in the demographic makeup of the United States. While the Asian population grew, the Vietnam War made assimilation more difficult in America.

The history of the United States as I learned it was mostly about Blacks and Whites, but there are many untold stories of immigrants who had to assimilate into this country and paved the way in small communities where Asians thrive today. My father and my mother were two of these pioneers.

My parents used to tell us stories about how difficult it was when they got to Charlottesville. Car tires were slashed in the mornings; they were turned away at restaurants and events. But my Dad was a proud (and stubborn) man; he told us his philosophy, “Once they get to know us, they will accept us. We just need to give it time.” My mother also moved to Charlottesville, and they got married and started a family. My father really embraced the culture at the University of Virginia. The Honor Code was something he consistently referenced. He embodied one of Thomas Jefferson’s philosophies; Jefferson believed in the concept of lifelong learning and saw education as a continuous journey. By using terms like “first year” instead of “freshman,” UVA underscores the idea that education is an ongoing process rather than a series of steps leading to a final goal. My father was the embodiment of that; he was reading and learning every day of his life. In 1977, my father became the first full professor of Asian descent at the University of Virginia.

Charlottesville 1970 (Virginia Magazine)

As a child, one of my first memories was cheering for Ralph Sampson and UVA. My parents were big basketball fans in Taiwan and they adopted the UVA basketball program as their team. They used to threaten my brother and me that if UVA Basketball lost, we would get spanked and grounded. I honestly don’t remember if I ever got spanked after a loss, but I do remember cheering for Ralph Sampson and Jimmy Miller as if my life depended on it.

Ralph Sampson vs Virginia Tech 1982

Back in those days, Ralph didn’t lose very much, so my rear end was pretty safe, but as the years carried on, my brother and I continued to watch every UVA basketball game as if our lives depended on it. UVA, and specifically UVA Basketball, was the fabric that held our family together. It was the one thing we all aligned on, and we cheered together for our entire lives. My brother and I grew up dreaming of attending UVA. For me, it was mostly my memories of cheering for UVA Basketball that made me want to attend UVA, and we both graduated from the University of Virginia in ’97 and ’99. If I’m being honest, the biggest moments of our lives often revolved around UVA Basketball, from the closing of Uhall, the opening of JPJ, the loss to Chaminade, to the 2019 Championship… so many incredible things we shared as a family.

As I sat beside my Dad in his final days and weeks, I thanked him for giving me an amazing childhood and for the greatest mother and brother anyone could ever ask for. And lastly, I thanked him for picking Charlottesville as a place we call home. It’s a special place that we all hold dearly in our hearts. My father was an old school, son of a war general, and he ruled our house with an iron fist. It wasn’t always fun, but I must credit him for instilling in us discipline, a hard-nosed work ethic, and passion. I find it so interesting that when you think about Charlottesville, the last people you think of would be an immigrant Chinese family, but for me, nobody loved Charlottesville more than my Dad. It was so important to him that on his deathbed, one of the final things he thought about was the Daily Progress.

Daily Progress, April 9, 2019

Many of our friends and family have asked if there’s anything they can do for us or him. In lieu of sending flowers or a gift basket, and to honor his life of academics, my brother created the Ching-hsien and Laura Huang Family Jefferson Scholarship. This scholarship will be awarded to minorities who excel in the field of Science and Academia. His legacy is here in Charlottesville, where this scholarship will pave the way for the next generation of students who will continue my parents’ legacy at UVA. A legacy where learning never stops and you cheer for UVA basketball like your life depends on it.

Oh yes, his obituary was posted in the Daily Progress.

In loving memory of Ba Ba.

Ching-hsien Huang