Working and Partying Together
I first met Vincent Wong when he joined our practice at ATMD Bird & Bird in late 2008 as an associate. He assisted me in many litigation and arbitration matters from that time up to about 2012 when we parted ways to be in different law firms.
I was most impressed with Vincent’s hard work. He never once cowered from having to do anything I asked for help on – be it a simple job, analysis or research on a complex issue or quick drafting to meet an urgent deadline – be it at 8am or lunchtime or at midnight or an emergency on weekends; and even if this was a pro bono case where there were no fees or billing hours involved. He was that kind of guy you would like to have with you in a trench when you are under attack from enemy fire and mortars.
Vincent was very conscientious in carrying out his duties. If he felt strongly about an issue or had a different analysis from mine, he never shied from discussing it tirelessly, and sometimes he did convince me to his point of view or otherwise would thank me for explaining things to him. He had a simple graciousness which I really liked.
He was also kind. Never once did I hear him utter any negative words about anyone in the office or outside, or even about a difficult client or adverse party or their counsel. He would always discuss things objectively and with a concern for enabling resolutions and justice. He also spent a lot of time giving pro bono advice at Community Legal Clinics.
We enjoyed a wonderful comradeship with lots of laughter, compassion and humour. That comradeship stretched to many happy hours over more than a few beers, which he relished and loved. I remember quite a few memorable late evenings when we were the last to leave or could not find our way home!
I remember fondly one night, when after our firm’s annual Christmas party (ATMD annual Christmas parties were always fancy-dress themed hollers!) a number of us adjourned at about 2am for an after-party at St James Power Station. Vincent argued with the door-bouncers to let us in, saying to them that although Mr Mahtani was dressed ridiculously as a smart fancy-dress Roman soldier, he was actually the most famous lawyer in town after David Marshall (a slight exaggeration that, haha), that the owner of the club was my former classmate (which was true). He demanded to see the owner if we were not let in! Vincent got his way and managed to move us all into a private party taking place at the club. Unforgettable!
I would never forget that day, in the office on a Saturday morning in 2010 when we were sitting at a small table preparing for an arbitration hearing the following week. I asked him about his medical appointment the prior day when he took medical leave to attend to some persistent mouth ulcers. He told me in the most matter-of-fact way, as if he was talking about some routine matter, “The doctor says I have cancer”. It was cancer of his mouth and throat. He described the options to me, which included going for surgery which would include removal of the front of his tongue.
I told him I was shocked not only to hear the news, but also the calm and almost matter of fact way he was describing it, and that if he had told me this earlier, I would have insisted he not work for a few days to sort things out. But he insisted on carrying on as normal, and in completing the work we had to do. He was that kind of guy.
The following week we discussed getting second opinions from a few cancer specialists, and I accompanied him to his consultation with a surgeon so that I could listen and offer my views on which course to take and help him in making those difficult decisions (be it radiation, chemo or surgery, natural remedies or otherwise).
Eventually, he opted to go for surgery. That involved cutting away and removal of some of the cancerous areas in his throat region, including part of the front of his tongue. He was still so admirably matter-of-fact about the whole process. At the hospital, while he was recovering from the surgery and the anaesthetic was still wearing off, he would try to mutter “thank you” to his visiting colleagues.
Back to the Grind
After a couple of months of hospitalisation leave, Vincent returned to work, as hard working, conscientious and energetic as ever. Like I said before, he was that kind of a gem of a guy. We all wondered (and so did he) whether he could ever really talk properly again after the surgery. Lo and behold, within a few months, he was already back on the circuit, arguing cases before registrars and judges and negotiating at meetings, as tirelessly as ever. I am still amazed about this till this day.
A couple of years later, we parted ways, going to different firms. He eventually set up his own shop.
We still kept in touch from time to time. He did some work with some of his former colleagues and some of my new colleagues; and we continued to enjoy after-work drinks with them, and I would join them once in a while. He was still the life of the party when the drinks went on into late evenings. It was as if the years of cancer, surgery and recovery never happened. He did not have a happy personal life (which he barely talked about unless specifically asked) being separated from his wife, but he cherished his life with his lovely daughter of whom he had custody.
In the last couple of years, we lost social contact mainly due to work (the usual curse of litigation and arbitration lawyers). I was very saddened in May 2021 when I heard that Vincent had passed away after several months battling liver failure.
When I attended his wake and talked with his sister, she mentioned that Vincent wanted to pass on quietly and privately. She recounted how he always spoke so fondly of working and partying together with his colleagues and ex-colleagues. This is how I and my former colleagues remember him. Despite his medical issues and personal problems, he never compromised his work ethic nor lost his joviality; and ultimately he passed on quietly so as not to trouble us with his concerns.
Adelphi Law Chambers LLP