Alberta’s former Lt.-Gov. and football star Norman Kwong dead at 86
The family of former Alberta Lt.-Gov. and CFL football player Norman Kwong said he passed away peacefully in his sleep early Saturday morning.
In a statement, the family said, “Norman Lim Kwong, (a.k.a. the China Clipper) has carried the ball over the goal line one last time.”
“Our father was a great man who accomplished so much in his lifetime,” the statement went on to say. “A genuine family man, he also had tremendous success as a professional athlete, team owner, business executive and government official. Throughout his varied life he touched so many people with his humility, intellect, dignity, unforgettable wit and sense of humour. His unique ability to connect at multiple levels with all types of people is something few people possess.”
Born in Calgary on Oct. 1929, Kwong served as Lt. Gov. Of Alberta from 2005 to 2010, becoming the first Chinese Canadian to hold the position in Alberta.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Kwong was appointed Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem by the Queen in 2005. He also has a bursary named in his honour at the University of Calgary and a gymnasium named after him at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.
Kwong’s foray into politics came after an illustrious playing career in the Canadian Football League. He became the league’s first player of Chinese descent when he took to the field as a fullback for the Calgary Stampeders in 1948. He later played for the Edmonton Eskimos and retired in 1960 after winning four Grey Cups and being named the CFL’s most outstanding player on two separate occasions.
His drive to win still resonates with the Edmonton Eskimos football club.
“Normie Kwong stands for the C in CFL,” Allan Watt, an Edmonton Eskimos spokesperson, said. “Every Canadian player owes a debt of gratitude to Normie Kwong and every time that somebody suggests that there should be fewer Canadians in the league, I think all we have to do is refer to Kwong and say no, there in fact should probably be more,” Watt added.
Kwong set a CFL rushing record by a Canadian in a season when he ran for 1,437 yards in 1956. The record stood for decades until utlimately being broken by the Stampeders’ Jon Cornish in 2012.
He was later inducted into both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was named to the Order of Canada because of his football accomplishments.
“It is with great sadness that I learned today of the passing of the Honourable Norman Kwong,” Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement Saturday. “Mr. Kwong was proud to be the son of Chinese immigrants. He was an Alberta success story from an early age. From his storied career in the Canadian Football League to his later co-ownership of the Calgary Flames, he was a champion on the field of play and in life.”
“The Honourable Norman Kwong was a person of exceptional character and extraordinary accomplishment, a great Albertan and a great Canadian,” Notley went on to say in her statement. “We will miss him.”
Current Alberta Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell also issued a statement on Kwong’s passing.
“Former Lt.-Gov. Norman Kwong will long be remembered for the quiet strength, innate kindness and sense of humour that he brought to his duties as Alberta’s vice-regal representative and to his lifetime of sterling service and leadership,” Mitchell’s statement read in part. “We have lost an exceptional leader and role model.”
After some time away from sports, Kwong returned to the CFL as president and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders in 1988. He was also a member of the Calgary Flames ownership group 1980 to 1994, during which time the hockey team won its only Stanley Cup in 1989.
“I am saddened today to hear of the death of a great Calgarian and great Canadian – Normie Kwong,” Ken King, president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (which owns both the Calgary Stampeders and Calgary Flames), said in a statement Saturday. “Normie was a special gift to Calgary’s sporting world.”
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Kwong was born to Chinese grocers who had immigrated to Canada from China at a time when the Canadian government required a $500 head tax of Chinese immigrants.
“We will all miss him dearly, but will rely on the countless beautiful memories we have of him as a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and uncle,” the family said in their statement. “While it is incredibly difficult to say goodbye, we are comforted in knowing that he had a most blessed and fulfilled life and that our love for, and memory of, him will remain with us forever.”
The family requested privacy until further notice and said funeral details will be released at a later date.
Norman Kwong is survived by his wife, Mary; his four sons, Greg, Brad, Marty and Randy; and 10 grandchildren.
The Chinese community is also mourning Kwong’s death. The chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association remembers Kwong as a kind, and humorous man. Michael Lee said Kwong brought a sense of pride to the community.
“He did have lots of challenges being a Chinese-Canadian when he was a youngster,” Lee said. “So when he overcame some of those adversities and used his talents to reach great heights, we were all very proud of him.”
Flags at the Alberta Legislature were lowered to half mast Saturday and a book of condolences was set up at the rotunda as well as online.
Saturday afternoon, people from the worlds of both sports and politics took to social media to offer their condolences.
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