Hospitality and Tourism Management Department Chair Passes Unexpectedly

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Michael Lao, the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department Chair, died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack while visiting family and friends in the Philippines on Aug. 16. He will be missed by all whose lives he touched. He is survived by his wife and fellow instructor, Faye Lao, who wrote the following eulogy for his memorial service.

Dear brother, sisters, family and friends.

To every one of us, Michael meant something special in our lives. To me, he was a teacher, husband, a friend, a mentor, and a role model of generosity and kindness.

It was through his eyes in the early years of our marriage that I understood the power of giving of yourself to help others, and how nourishing giving for the sake of giving and spreading help and joy to others could be for the spirit.

To you he’s a brother, an uncle, a friend, or father figure. But what we share in common is that we all received Mike’s infinite generosity of heart, hospitality and care. Mike would always have a nice encouraging word to say to anybody he met, and always sought to be a mentor and teacher of life’s lessons. To his students, Mike was their dad away from home—someone who taught not only business skills but life lessons in how to be a decent and generous, giving human being.

In recent years, nothing inspired Mike more than to wake up in the morning knowing that he could contribute to growing a hospitality program at school and watch the program and his students’ lives and careers thrive under his guidance.

Mike had so much to give, so much that he wanted to do for others, that he never stopped moving, never stopped thinking of new projects. He was always in a hurry, because I believe that as a spirit, he knew his time was short on this earth and that he better appreciate every moment of it to compress his work and play into one of his favorite mottos, “work hard, play hard.”

Mike used to always say “Life is short—be happy, don’t sweat the little stuff. Be grateful and be content.” Though I never wanted to believe he was hinting at feeling ready to move on. I would say to Mike that mom lived to almost 80, dad to over 90. Surely he had many decades left to work hard and play hard. But he meant what he said — he was on borrowed time and made sure that every minute counted to make a maximum impact on everything he did for others.

There is so much more that can be said about Mike that would take days, weeks to speak about. So many funny stories of his huge appetite for life, food and fun. He could outlast 20-year-old students on day field trips — like the Energizer bunny that can do two field trips, three meetings, eat four meals in one day, and still have energy and room for shopping and coffee at night.

No one who has ever met Mike and seen his enthusiasm for life can ever forget how infected they are by his fun-loving, bright spirit and his famous appetite. He could kill half a dozen lobsters and more food in one sitting than anyone I know. He could peel crab shells faster than anyone I know, and he could drink the hottest noodle bowl without second degree burns. And he never got fat!

Mike was a teacher of life to all he met. A friend to those who were unemployed, misguided, confused, or beaten by life.

Always encouraging those who had lost faith in themselves and in life, he would know how to heal and renew hope for them when they were lost and discouraged. He found jobs for countless students, helped family members succeed at their jobs,

inspired countless more to have focus and a sense of direction and purpose in life. And he did it all with a smile, and a promise of more gifts to come from him—with few thoughts for his own rewards.

I will never forget all of his lessons to me as a husband. Be kind, loving, generous, patient, giving and forgiving. Always live for the moment and enjoy the day. Always be grateful for the day and for what tomorrow brings. And never hold a grudge.

Mike is looking at us with great amusement, love and care. He is happy. He is exactly where he wants to be right now. He left this earth on his own terms—happy, peaceful, accomplished, and leaving a legacy of love to all he has touched.

He has a message for all of us. Be happy. Be true to yourself. Embrace today. And above all, embrace your future without fear. You never know what pleasant surprises it may bring you.

And we have a message for Mike. Be in pure joy and light. Be the bright spirit you always are. Enjoy your return to the Source, from where you came. Return to the Source of your Grace and your bright light on this earth. The Source, our God of infinite love, joy, wisdom, and abundance. We love you. You are always in our hearts.

 

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