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Remembering Felix Wong

By: Ben Cohen
November 06, 2020
Photo of Felix Wong and his parents.

Felix Wong passed away on Oct. 28 after a year-and-a-half long battle with brain cancer. He was 24. If not for the illness, Felix would have graduated with the Ryerson School of Journalism’s class of 2020.

Felix was the most talented person I have ever known. He was an acclaimed jazz pianist, external link and multi-instrumentalist with perfect pitch who became the only person to ever earn a full-ride scholarship to Humber College’s prestigious jazz program. Felix was also a wickedly stylish writer with tremendous voice and range. He could have been the greatest in a number of disciplines, but the universe had crueler plans.

Felix was distinct in nature and appearance, coming across as almost anachronistic with his leather jacket, fingerless gloves, rock star hair and baritone voice. He was at once listless and driven, an exceptionally ambitious forward-thinker who didn’t care to suffer life’s irrelevancies. Felix was a loyal friend and a natural leader, no-nonsense yet quick with a joke, perennially optimistic but careful to temper that with a healthy amount of cynicism. Felix was the type to never do anything he wasn’t willing to put all his effort into—he said that of himself often.

While still at jazz school, Felix realized he was tired of doing soulless corporate gigs and mudwrestling for clout in music industry mire. He dropped out of Humber and pivoted to journalism, beginning with a spate of freelance writing for video game publication Cliquist. There, Felix wrote 82 articles, external link from April 2016 to July 2017.

September 2016 saw his arrival at the RSJ, where he started volunteering straight away for CJRU 1280AM, the campus radio station. This led to him getting his own show, Double Booked, external link, where he interviewed up-and-coming musicians about “their craft, the records that they grew up with and the many struggles and rewards of working in the music industry.” It broadcast live every week from 7-8 p.m. and ran from December 2016 to late March 2017. Some of his guests included Juno-nominated jazz vocalist Heather Bambrick, Juno-nominated trumpet player and singer Tara Kannangara and Juno award-winning musician Robi Botos.

This is around the time I started meddling in Felix’s life, first by getting him to host a talk show I wanted to produce. Only one episode, external link was ever fully edited, but we filmed six altogether. That was the beginning of a friendship and a series of collaborations, both of which I had hoped would last decades. We continued to work closely over the next few years, editing a magazine, external link together, planning and scrapping various projects and otherwise helping each other grow personally and professionally.

In spring 2018, Felix and I were both gearing up for our first summer internships. I was hired by a daily newspaper called the Sault Star and he a weekly called The Highlander in Haliburton, Ont. When I showed up for work, my editor revealed that Felix had actually been his first choice for the job. Felix had never breathed a word of it to me. Once he realized the Star was my last shot at a journalism job that summer, having already been passed on by the other publications I applied to, he quietly turned down the paper’s offer in order to let me get my foot in the door. That changed my life. Every byline I’ve gotten since was earned in part thanks to the work experience he allowed me to get. It’s a debt I can never repay.

My life is richer for having known him, and I’m far from the only person who can say that. Felix mentored many young writers in his time as magazine editor, all of whom would be quick to tell you how important he was to them.

“Felix was the first editor I ever worked with,” said RSJ student Mariyam Khaja. “He was such a brilliant writer and I remember just being in awe of the voice and ideas that came across in his writing. He was also the type of editor that every young writer deserves—you could count on him for mentorship and honest and constructive feedback. His criticism of my work was never mean-spirited. It was always in the service of pushing me out of my comfort zone and moulding me into a better writer. He was witty and insightful, and I learned so much from just being around him. I will never forget that he believed in my potential as a writer long before I did myself, and I am forever grateful that our paths crossed. He will be missed.”

Minh Truong, another RSJ student and Felix’s successor as editor of the Unaffiliated Press magazine, said Felix helped guide him through the toughest time of his life.

“There were so many factors in first year that could have broken me,” Truong said. “I could have just given up and dropped out. But coming to the weekly meetings at UP really inspired me to keep moving forward. Felix was strict and stern, but he had a warm heart and was very caring as he looked after us. Some loved him as a mentor, a teacher, an editor. I loved him as a friend.”

Felix met trumpet-player Ujjawal Madan in Grade 10. They were instant friends.

“I immediately recognized that not only was he a very intelligent and talented individual, but also kind, loyal and dependable—all the qualities you would want in a friend,” Madan said. “Ever since, he and I have been close, playing at each other's recitals, visiting each other’s homes also getting to know each other’s families. Despite us pursuing different paths after high school, he and I kept in close contact and were even roommates at one point.”

In May 2019, Felix was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, “the deadliest brain cancer in the world,” as he put it in his incredible final published piece, external link, just as he was about to start an internship at the North Bay Nugget. Madan said he was heartbroken.

“Those who knew him will probably agree that Felix was larger than life and that it just did not seem fair for an individual as bright and young as him to potentially have his life cut short,” he said. “Despite my grave concerns for his well-being, Felix remained optimistic of his condition during most of, if not the entire time he was fighting cancer.

“He underwent painful treatments and had every reason to be pessimistic about his situation. Whatever outward cynicism Felix appeared to have, his true nature was both positive and hopeful. His own concern was not rooted in his own physical pain or his perilous future but in his concern for the pain of those closest to him.”

Madan said he will miss Felix’s funny and wild stories, his sense of humour, his kindness and compassion and the long, deep, existential conversations they used to have.

“I knew early on Felix was a special individual but in this past year-and-a-half, he showed himself to be truly remarkable in his fight against cancer,” he said. “There is no one that I know who would have handled the situation with as much optimism, courage and resolve as he had. While there is no denying that he had a strong will to live, he had also embraced the possibility of passing away—something that I think most individuals his age would not be able to do. I am confident he is in a better place and am comforted knowing he was at home surrounded by his loved ones, which I am sure is what he would have wanted. I will miss his friendship more than I can say.”

Felix is survived by his parents and brother.