Dr. Tam’s name added to Canal Street


The Canal St. and Cortlandt Alley intersection is now known as Dr. Thomas M.S. Tam Way.

The co-naming ceremony took place on Friday, Oct. 30, at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center at 268 Canal St., which Dr. Tam co-founded in 1971.

Dr. Tam grew up in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with his family at age 12. The first Asian American trustee for the City University of New York, Dr. Tam co-founded the Asian American Higher Education Council and the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at CUNY. He was the first executive director for the institute. He initiated the 1971 Chinatown Health Fair, the first health fair in Chinatown, which drew 1,000 people.

Dr. Tam co-founded the first free community health clinic in Chinatown in 1971, which gained federal recognition in 1979, and later was named after Wang.

“After the health fair, he suggested we needed to do more than a one-time health fair, so he proposed we establish a health clinic in the community,” said Regina Lee, chief development officer of the health center. Many of the center’s patients do not have private health insurance and have trouble navigating the health care system because they don’t speak English.

In 1975, Dr. Tam created an internship program for college students, which, according to Lee, is now the oldest continuing health career training program in the country. “We graduated more than 4,000 college students, many are physicians who still practice in the community,” said Lee.

Those who knew Tam describe him as an inspiration. “He was a community organizer, planner, advocate, a scientist, an educator, and a filmmaker…he made films on the side,” said Lee. “Most of us remember him as a visionary…he was also a very kind and gentle man,” she said.

The ceremony included a traditional lion dance. Attendees included Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of CUNY, Councilmember Alan Gerson, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, Justin Yu, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and Angelica Tang, executive director of the Committee of 100.

— Helaina N. Hovitz