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Fosters honored for service to Asia Society of Texas

13 Mar

When Charles Foster became chairman of Asia Society of Texas in 1991, the Houston chapter was renting a small office space with a couple of staff members.

Now, 24 years later, when Lily Chen Foster and Charles Foster were honored at Asia Society Texas Center’s Tiger Ball – Enchanting China – on Thursday, the event attended by more than 700 people was held at the center’s permanent home in Houston’s renowned museum district, a testament to what the Fosters have achieved during their 24 years of service to the organization.

“In the past, our programs were mostly policy driven lectures and speeches. We had to rent various places for our events. Now, we have this beautiful home to exhibit art, provide education and continue to do our policy driven discussions,” Charles Foster told China Daily.

“When Charles first mentioned the idea of raising $10 million to build a home for Asia Society almost 20 years ago, I thought he was crazy; that’s a lot money. But Charles said to me: ‘You have to dream big,'” recalled Lily Foster.

It took almost two decades, but the dream came true on a much grander scale than envisioned with help from many in the community. The center, designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, best-known in the United States for his renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, had a final cost of $48.5 million. It was dedicated in 2011 and has become one of Houston’s tour attractions for its beauty and exhibitions of Asian art works.

“During my time with Asia Society, we had hosted George H. W. Bush, a few Chinese ambassadors, and most of all, we hosted in 2002 the former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, which I consider another highlight of my years with Asia Society. I have decided that I have served long enough for Asia Society. It’s a volunteer position and I have done my share.

“So I gave a Shermanesque statement to the center six month ago that if nominated, I will not assume the position. It’s time for others to step in,” said Foster, who has decided to retire from the position in June. However, he will remain a trustee of Asia Society’s national board and will continue to provide advice to the center.

“Charles holds a lot of civic positions, but he has devoted most of his energy to Asia Society. It’s almost like a full-time job to him. I often joked that he’s an American Lei Feng (a figure well-known in China for helping others selflessly). I know part of the reason he works so hard to promote Asia Society is because of me,” said Lily Foster.

Lily Foster became a center board member and began to sit on the performing arts committee only a couple of years ago, but she has been instrumental in the center’s growth by using her connections with China’s diplomatic circle and exerting her influence as a well-known Chinese actress throughout the years.

“I am happier for Lily because she finally got some recognition for all the work she has done behind the scene,” said Charles Foster.

The Fosters shared the honor with Lily Foster’s parents, whose help has enabled them to devote time to Asia Society.

“Twenty-five years ago, Asia Society’s Tiger Ball was set at Sak’s shopping center. To support Charles and me, my parents held our two-month old son Zachery in the car in the parking garage for five hours. Every two hours I had to run to the garage to nurse him. Dad and mom, thank you for supporting me and Charles throughout the years! Tonight’s honor should be yours,” said Lily Foster in her acceptance speech.

Chinese Consul General Li Qiangmin and his wife Zeng Hongyan attended the event as the guests of honor. “I am much honored that this year’s Tiger Ball highlights China. We have witnessed tremendous growth of China-US relations. A lot of the attendants tonight have worked for the relations over the years. I am encouraged to continue to promote this relationship to benefit both countries,” said Li.

The Tiger Ball and raised $1.2 million for the center.