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Vol. LXIV, No. 18
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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Gordon Wu’s Generosity Turns “Mini Reunion” Into World-Class Trip for the Class of 1958

Ellen Gilbert

“I’ve attended many mini-reunions, and can vouch for the fact that this one was unprecedented,” said Richard Miller in a letter to Princeton Alumni Weekly editor Marilyn H. Marks.

The remarkable reunion under discussion was the Class of 1958‘s week-long visit to China, underwritten, for the most part, by their classmate, Sir Gordon Wu.

“Sir Gordon’s generosity has touched every corner of the University,” said President Shirley M. Tilghman at a 2007 event that celebrated the business leader’s 25 years of “extraordinary” support to the University, including funds to construct buildings, provide financial aid, endow faculty positions, and support innovative research.

Describing Mr. Wu as “a man of few words,” reunion organizer and member of the Class of ’58 Jim Farrin recently recalled how the trip came about. “Too early,” said Mr. Wu, when Mr. Farrin approached him about a potential reunion in China some 16 months before the actual event. “No problem,” said Mr. Wu when he was told that 161 people — 85 classmates and their significant others (including three widows) — had signed on for the trip.

“It was like moving an army,” said Mr. Farrin of the logistical challenges posed by so large a group once they got to Hong Kong. Four buses, each staffed by tour guides, were used to transport them from place to place, including visits to the Harbour City, Guangzhou, and Macau. Seventeen members of the group extended the trip for a week in Shanghai and Bejing, and another 47 stayed for an additional week in Shanghai, Bejing, and Xi’an.

The itinerary also included site visits to the Liede Integrated Commercial Project in Guangzhou, power stations, highway control centers, and other examples of Mr. Wu’s Hopewell Holdings projects. “He was wonderful,” said Mr. Farrin, describing Mr. Wu’s generosity of spirit as he “talked about China and took a lot of questions and answers.”

Mr. Wu’s current focus is the construction of a 60-story wind turbine in Yangjiang, Gundong. It will be the largest in the world, and promises to deliver energy at half the average rate using an environmentally-friendly convex/concave design based, according to Mr. Farrin, on the Wright Brothers’ original plane.

“He’s the Bill Gates of construction,” said Mr. Farrin of his classmate. “He will see something like a bridge, envisage a project, and then sell the idea. Still, he’s not an arrogant man.”

“He wasn’t a good pool player and he wasn’t great at sports,”said Mr. Farrin, recalling Mr. Wu as a young engineering student who did things like visiting the N.J. Turnpike in his spare time. Mr. Farrin said that Mr. Wu later recalled that visit as “‘one of the greatest learning experiences’ he had in America,” and no wonder. Inspired by the N.J. Turnpike, Mr. Wu built a similar one in China, long before cars were popular. It now generates $1.3 million in revenue a day. The name “Hopewell” is also a holdover from Mr. Wu’s days in Princeton; Mr. Farrin said that his classmate simply “liked the sound of it.”

In his introduction to the printed tour guide, Mr. Wu described how he “took the first flight home after graduation. Don’t get me wrong,” he continued. “I love the United States. I am forever grateful to the American people in general, Princeton in particular… But I disagree with the policies of the Internal Revenue Service, and thought I would have better odds in Hong Kong.”

Amid “innumerable standing ovations,” the Class of ’58 marked the end of the trip by presenting Mr. Wu with an engraved tray as a token of its respect and appreciation. The most ambitious overseas trip by any Princeton University class was, according to many, “the best trip” they’d “ever taken.”

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