Kitty Chin's fingers dance delicately across the photos carefully arranged on cardboard displays, lingering lightly on one, long enough to tell its story, before waltzing off to the next.
Here's her husband, Calvin Chin, surrounded by University of Baltimore students from Xiamen, China. Here he is at the Johns Hopkins University with a young man from Shanghai and, farther down, he poses with the man's parents. And there, at a place of honor at the top, is their wedding photo, the youthful couple captured in black and white, he in a tux, and she in satin.
She still has the same gentle eyes, the slight smile. "1951," she says and raises a hand to her mouth, incredulous.
Calvin Chin, a retired city tax assessor, died in February at age 83. Yesterday, his wife and dozens of supporters gathered to celebrate his life during a traditional dim sum brunch, swapping colorful stories over plates of orange-glazed sesame shrimp and tightly wrapped spring rolls.
"People always knew to call on Calvin," Kitty Chin said, her voice breaking just a little.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Calvin Chin was born and raised in Baltimore, helping his parents at their Chinese Clipper Restaurant and the China Tea Import Co., which they set up on Park Avenue. He graduated from City College in 1942 and enlisted in the Navy during World War II, returning to earn a business degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.
He became a city tax assessor in the 1950s and served as chairman of the city's Property Tax Appeal Board for 24 years
In the 1970s, he fought for recognition of the city's Asian businesses. In the 1980s, he lobbied for an Asian Center. But it was the bridge-building work between the people of Baltimore and China, as well as other Asian countries, that many consider his legacy.
For the past quarter-century of his life, he promoted a relationship between Baltimore and Xiamen, a city of 2.5 million people in southeastern China.
In 1985, Mayor William Donald Schaefer sent a delegation of city leaders there to establish a "sister city" program, a partnership designed to foster cultural understanding and economic development. (Baltimore now has of 11 such global partnerships.) Kitty and Calvin Chin helped organize the committee of volunteers that has managed the relationship ever since. The group sponsored yesterday's brunch. It was the first of what is to be a yearly commemoration.
There, at Jesse Wong's Kitchen in Hunt Valley Towne Center, the conversation flowed fast and free, like the tea passed from person to person in glass pots. They spoke of trade possibilities between the U.S. and China, education partnerships between Baltimore and Xiamen, and of Calvin Chin's selflessness.
Evelyn Garland remembers when she came to Baltimore from China a few years ago to earn her master's degree from Johns Hopkins. She got caught up in a problem with a landlord and said the Chins helped her navigate the situation.
Jim Zhang outlined progress on a new partnership between Baltimore and Xiamen schools. Zhang teaches Chinese at Polytechnic Institute. He recently traveled to Xiamen on the sister city program's behalf.
In a globalized world, such relationships are necessary both socially and economically, said Renee Samuels, director of the Mayor's Office of International and Immigrant Affairs.
Glancing around the room at the diverse gathering, she said, "You see black people and white people and Asian people." It's the sort of group Calvin Chin would have assembled himself.
"He's not here physically," his wife said. "But he's here spiritually."