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The legacy of a life devoted to seed conservation

Professor Chin. Credit: Universiti Putra Malaysia
Professor Chin. Credit: Universiti Putra Malaysia

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Professor Chin Hoong Fong earlier this month. Professor Chin is a former Member of the Board of Trustees of IBPGR (1987-1992), Honorary Fellow (1997-2018), and a beloved colleague and friend. He was 83 years old.

Professor Chin devoted his entire life to seed conservation, and to teaching and guiding others through his expertise. He is known as the father of cryopreservation which is crucial for the conservation of many tropical crop and tree seeds that do not tolerate drying and cannot, therefore, be conserved in conventional genebanks.

Among many other positions of trust, he was a Member of the Committee of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. He worked his entire career of almost 60 years at the Malaysian agricultural university, Universiti Putra Malaysia, and taught around 10,000 students over the years. Other than being an outstanding scientist and academician, Professor Chin was also an avid poet and photographer who drew his inspiration from the creations of nature and taught others to see the minute beauty of flowers and seeds. He was still writing and sharing his wisdom even as his health deteriorated.

Reflecting on his life, Professor Chin recently said:
“I wish to thank Bioversity International for hosting me for over 30 years as a voluntary worker, a board member and as an honorary fellow for work in conservation of plant genetic resources that will be made useful throughout the world. I hope Bioversity International will continue the good work to serve the world. I hope you will continue the work on my behalf. Good luck to you all. Life is like making tea. Boil your ego, evaporate your worries, dilute your sorrows, filter your mistakes and get a taste of happiness.”


“Life is like making tea. Boil your ego, evaporate your worries, dilute your sorrows, filter your mistakes and get a taste of happiness”
Professor Chin.

Here are some messages from friends and colleagues given in tribute on hearing the sad news:

Professor Chin’s scientific achievements were truly remarkable – and yet, he maintained his unassuming character and his kindness towards everyone which made him a truly special person. Many from our current management team met him during travels to Malaysia between 2014 and 2017. We were all deeply impressed and affected by the warm welcome he extended to us, the deep insights he offered during our discussions, and the love and respect that each and every Malaysian collaborator that we met showed to him as a former teacher and close friend. We will forever cherish those beautiful memories.

Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity International

Dear Prof, I will always remember you and look up to you as someone who truly loved and treasured life, in all its forms. You loved the tiniest seeds and their patterns, and took the time to admire and photograph the beauty of the flowers in your garden through the seasons. You dreamed big dreams of food security, novel technologies and global crop gene banks, and put in your heart and effort to make them come true. You probably spent endless lonely hours in the laboratory and preparing your books and lectures, and then initiated several associations because you so strongly believed in sharing ideas and in the importance of contributing to society. You made friends with people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, and treated them all the same. You never gave up your curiosity and fascination for life, for all the little things around us that so many of us never stop to think about. Thank you for your friendship and for sharing your wisdom. I will forever carry those in my heart.

Riina Jalonen, Head, Bioversity International's Malaysia Office

Professor Chin was an exceptional person who touched everyone he met. He had an unparalleled passion for his work, a sharp intellect, a perseverant spirit, a wonderful sense of humor, and the soul of a poet who saw beauty in the smallest detail of life, in the tiniest of seed, in the shape of a hibiscus flower, in the curiosity of a young researcher. He was a mentor to all, a wise and poised man, an exceptional friend. He will be missed dearly. His memory will endure in the hearts of the thousands of students he inspired, and his many colleagues, friends, and family. What a life to live, a legacy to celebrate.

Marlène Elias, Gender Specialist, Bioversity International

Prof Chin’s towering insights and wisdom on humility, hard work and friendship will never be forgotten. He faithfully sowed seeds of love and friendship wherever his feet carried him. His affable personality drew people young and old alike to listen to his astute thoughts. He possessed a certain elegance in the way he imparted his wisdom and writings. I was always in awe at how painstakingly he would bridge words together into splendid poems about the wonders of seeds (his first love) and nature. He valued people, he treasured sights and captured splendour even in the simplest form of things- all magnificently locked through the lenses of his faithful camera. I recall fondly of the countless times when he would walk into the office excitedly with one of his latest picture albums which would depict all the wonderful sights he had encountered along his way to work, or at times during the late hours of dusk! He was in love with life and its beauty. Prof Chin reminded me always that when you extend help to others, never to expect anything in return. That was the kind of life he led. Always giving. Thank you dearest Prof Chin for the lessons of life you have taught and the friendship extended. Your works and words continue to inspire and stir us to give our all in whatever we pursue. Farewell dearest Prof Chin.

Dorothy Chandrabalan, former Programme Specialist, Bioversity International's Malaysia Office

Sorry to learn about Prof Chin’s demise. His contribution has been significant for seed conservation. It is inspiring to see such scientist who devote their whole life sharing their knowledge and researching in areas that contribute to further development. I along with our Nepal office team would like to offer our sincere condolence to Prof Chin’s family and wish that they could overcome the grief of losing a beautiful soul. Wish that his departed soul rest in peace.

Richa Gurung, Bioversity International's Nepal Office

It was really sad to hear the news on the demise of Professor HF Chin. Please extend our deepest condolences to Professor Chin’s family. Prof. Chin made a great contribution to Bioversity International. We pray to rest his soul in eternal peace and give enough courage to his family to overcome this difficult time.

Zongwen Zhang and colleagues from Bioversity International's China Office

So sad to hear about the passing away of Professor Chin. He was truly a great man. During my visit to the Serdang office two years ago, Professor Chin gave me his book of poetry with the beautiful photos, and I have very much enjoyed reading it. It is something that I treasure.

Leslie Bird, Director of Corporate Services, Bioversity International