Lorraine Wang, 95, philanthropist who helped establish Wang Center
The story of how the Wang family came to the financial rescue of the venue that became the Wang Center for the Performing Arts varies by the teller, and Lorraine Wang was modest when it was her turn to speak.
On the December evening in 1983 when the center was dedicated, her husband, An Wang, who had founded Wang Laboratories, insisted that Mrs. Wang “fired the first shot to make tonight possible.” He then stepped aside to let her speak on behalf of the family.
In an interview with the Globe several weeks before that gala evening, however, Mrs. Wang had tried to give her husband principal credit.
She recalled that after civic leaders asked him for financial help to preserve what was then the Metropolitan Center, “I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ Then I said, ‘Don’t you think we should think about it some more?’ And he said, ‘No. I’ve already told them it’s OK.’ ”
In that same conversation, her husband offered a different version. In his telling, he was the hesitant one and she was resolved. “I asked my wife, ‘Are you interested in this?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I think it’s a good idea. I’ll contribute a million dollars to that,’ ” he remembered in the October 1983 interview. “And usually she’s very lukewarm to anything like that. So I said, ‘OK, if you’re willing to do that . . .’ ”
Mrs. Wang, whose life brought her from childhood in Shanghai to many decades in Lincoln, died Tuesday in Emerson Hospital. She was 95 and her health had been failing.
“Without her, I don’t think we would have gotten involved with the Wang Center,” said her older son, Frederick of Boston. “She really latched onto the idea of trying to do more for Boston, the whole philosophy of giving back to the environment you thrived in.”
Mrs. Wang’s younger son, Courtney of Dallas, said that in later years his mother acknowledged her significant role in the family’s initial Wang Center contribution. When Courtney joined the Board of Directors of the Citi Performing Arts Center, which includes what is now the Wang Theatre, his mother told him: “You remind everybody there that I’m the one who made Dad support and contribute to what became the Wang Center.”
Mrs. Wang was the honorary chair of Citi Performing Arts Center.
Courtney added that his father “brought the idea to my Mom and they discussed it and she really pushed him to do it. She was passionate about the performing arts.”
Born in Shanghai on June 26, 1920, Lorraine Chur was the daughter of the former Margaret Kwei-Kiao Wang and Frederick D.S. Chur. She had a much older half-sister, Gertrude Ho, who — like Mrs. Wang — ended up in the United States. Her sister had lived in Bethesda, Md.
Mrs. Wang’s parents had been living in Hawaii and returned to Shanghai before she was born, though much of her large extended family remains in Hawaii.
“Up until she was 10, she lived in a little suburb of Shanghai. She said it was not unsimilar to Belmont,” Frederick said. “Then, when she was 10, she was sent to McTyeire School, which was considered the premier girls’ elementary school in Shanghai.”
Though Mrs. Wang’s parents moved into the city and lived a few blocks away, she boarded at the school, where she began to develop her love of literature and the performing arts.
“She liked to dance,” Frederick said. “The story she told me was that her pediatrician told her when she was very young that she had very weak ankles, and he suggested she take up dancing to strengthen them.”
Mrs. Wang took dance instruction for years, and she attended St. John’s University in Shanghai as part of one of the early classes that included women. Her father had attended the university, and she studied English literature.
“Her mother never spoke Chinese,” Frederick said. “She spoke English and that’s why Mom’s English was so good.”
Along with English, Mrs. Wang spoke Shanghainese and Mandarin. After graduating from St. John’s University, she taught English at the McTyeire School during World War II. Most of the British teachers who had been there when she was a student had returned home during the war.
In 1946, Mrs. Wang boarded a ship for the United States. En route she stopped in Hawaii to meet some of her many relatives. She then traveled to San Francisco, and began a trip across the country to do postgraduate work at Wellesley College, where she also taught English courses to undergraduates.
“Her intention was to get a degree at Wellesley, and eventually to go into teaching,” Frederick said.
During that time, an expatriate group of college and graduate students from Shanghai in Greater Boston met regularly for social gatherings. She met An Wang at one of those parties and they married on July 10, 1949.
As he founded and expanded Wang Laboratories, becoming a driving force in the computer industry and a key part of the Massachusetts Miracle economic revival, Mrs. Wang participated in quiet ways the public didn’t often see. At each year’s Wang Achievers dinner, for example, she spoke to female employees and spouses. “It was very personal and we loved her for it,” one employee told the Globe in 1989. “She was like the mother of the company.”
Her husband died in 1990. In later years, Mrs. Wang was involved with the family’s Wang Foundation, where as a philanthropist she advocated for funding to support immigrants in Chinatown, classes in English as a second language, and affordable housing and health assistance for the elderly.
At home, meanwhile, “from the pure family perspective you couldn’t have asked for a better Mom,” Courtney said. “She was always there and she was always willing to support you, and fight for you if necessary.”
In addition to her two sons, Mrs. Wang leaves a daughter, Juliette Wang Coombs of Fairhaven, and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in First Parish in Lincoln.
Mrs. Wang read constantly and recorded in a journal the titles of books she finished. “She read like you would not believe,” Courtney said. “She read thousands of books, multiple thousands, primarily novels.”
She also was known for New Year’s Eve parties she hosted in the family’s Lincoln home, and for mahjong games that moved from house to house among participants and lasted for hours. Like Mrs. Wang, most in the group were from Shanghai.
“We started in late afternoon and all of the games we played went until the next morning almost,” her friend Loretta Chu of Lincoln recalled with a laugh. “She was a wonderful friend, always.”