Honorary doctorate for ‘Wild Man’ Chu


Dr Alex Chu and his wife Jenny.


Dr Alex Chu’s significant contribution to Massey University and New Zealand was recognised yesterday with the honorary degree of a Doctor of Science at graduation celebrations today in Palmerston North. 

Born Cheong Ping in the Chinese city of Chongqing, his father had encouraged him to adopt an Anglo Saxon first name, which he duly did in his mid-teens, resulting in the choice of Alex. When he was 7 years old, the family moved to Hong Kong for a brief period before emigrating in 1953 to British North Borneo, now the state of Sabah, East Malaysia.

After leaving school in 1961, Dr Chu started his career as a junior field officer at the Sabah Department of Agriculture in Malaysia, before being awarded a Colombo Plan Scholarship to study the four-year Agricultural Science degree at (the then) Massey Agricultural College. Dr Chu graduated in 1971 with a Master of Agricultural Science degree with first-class honours in Plant Science.

Professor Emeritus Robert Anderson introduced Dr Chu and gave a rare glimpse of the man before he joined the staff at Massey.

“Being from British North Borneo, his class mates at Massey nicknamed Alex as being ‘the wild man from Borneo’. That nickname would turn out to be significantly astray because Alex graduated as a Massey Scholar, which was awarded to just 5 per cent of graduates in 1968. Moreover, at that time, agricultural science at Massey was at its zenith and, reflecting across the 65 years that the Agricultural Science degree was offered, the class of 1968 is one of the most illustrious. Wild man from Borneo? I think not! 

“Alex Chu is the most selfless, dedicated and loyal colleague with whom I had the privilege of collaborating during the past four decades.”

After graduating, Dr Chu returned to Malaysia. However, Massey’s head of the department of agronomy Professor Bramwell Watkin persuaded him to return to New Zealand and became a lecturer in 1973 – becoming a New Zealand citizen in the same year.

He completed a PhD in Agronomy in 1979 and advanced through the academic ranks, reaching the status of Associate Professor in 1986.

In 1988, he was appointed as Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor (International Liaison and Special Projects), a role making him responsible for developing relationships between Massey and Asia, particularly in China.

Dr Chu’s work resulted in collaborative agreements with the prestigious Peking and Tokyo universities. His scholarly achievements led to his being accorded five honorary professorships at universities in China, including: China Agricultural University, Hubei Agricultural College, Gansu Grassland Ecological Research Institute, Northeast Normal University and the Mongolian College of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.

Dr Chu raised funds internationally for eliminating poverty and has assisted with increased farmers’ incomes through technology transfer and training, lectures and seminars, academic linkages and scholarships. During his Massey career, Alex secured approximately $2.1 million funding from grants and external consultancy.

Dr Chu was also a lifelong learner, completing a Graduate Diploma of Management whilst on leave at the University of Western Australia.

In 2001 he returned to his academic base as Assistant to the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Sciences, before retiring in 2008.

Many years spent forging international links for the University were recognised upon his retirement when Dr Chu was rewarded with a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Service.

Speaking to the audience at Palmerston North, Dr Chu talked about his time at Massey and things he had learnt.

“Fifty years ago, I too graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor’s degree; just like what you have achieved today. From today, you are going to start your journey of life, whereas I am just about finishing mine.  Perhaps there are some experiences I can share with you.  Who knows, they may help you in your journey.

“If you ask me for just one piece of advice - I would say aim high and follow your heart. In the end it doesn’t really matter if you are unable to reach your goal, as long as you have given your best and you have followed your heart, and done what you think is the right thing to do: no one can ask for more.”

Dr Chu was awarded the Chinese State Friendship Award in 2001 and appointed Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2003 for services to agriculture in New Zealand and China.

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