Mindfulness is such an important concept to Bernard Hsu that he has the word tattooed on his arm (thanks to his daughter, a tattoo artist), and he applies that in just about every aspect of his life – his fitness regimen, his family time, and his approach to philanthropy.
Bernard grew up in Taiwan, the son of a businessman. Growing up he said he may not have made the best choices when it came to friends, and as a result his parents sent him to Singapore to attend high school (though they were kind enough to say it was because that could make it easier for him to attend college in the United States). When it came time to graduate, he had been accepted to several University of California system schools, but when his father decided to take an early retirement at 42 and pursue a master’s degree at UNC Chapel Hill, he hoped Bernard would choose a college closer to him. Bernard did indeed settle close by, attending UNC Greensboro where he received a degree in management. Bernard’s wife, Elut, had a different experience, settling in Durham in the early 1980s with her family. Her parents were Chinese and had lived in Hong Kong, deciding to flee after witnessing the Cultural Revolution. They were teachers in Hong Kong, but sacrificed and took entry level jobs here as they wanted their children to be able to pursue the American dream. “I bring this up because I think our experiences complement each other well,” he says. “Since she came as a child her cultural influence is probably about 60/40 American/Asian, whereas I came as an adult, so figure I am split about 60/40 the other way. Additionally, both families had strong family values focused on kindness, which directly influenced our desire to bring positive impact to those around us. And we are trying to do the same with our children.”
Bernard spent over 20 years in the IT industry, working for tech giants like IBM and Lenovo, while Elut worked in the pharmaceutical industry. Along the way they had two daughters. Having both been fortunate to work in industries that were booming, they did very well financially, which provided Bernard an opportunity to take an early retirement. Since he had great affection for the Triangle region but felt somewhat disconnected while busy with his career, Bernard took that leap so he could finally engage in the community.
Through his financial advisor, who understood Bernard’s wish to focus his philanthropy locally, he was connected with Triangle Community Foundation. “I was interested in teaming up with the Foundation because, sure, I could write a check to Durham Rescue Mission,” he says, “But I didn’t want to do just that - I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to be educated on what this community is about, what it needs, and how I can be better involved.”
Unfortunately Bernard’s retirement and new relationship with the Foundation coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he has not been able to immerse himself as much as he would have liked so far. But he was able to get involved in different ways. Bernard was able to mobilize his family around one of his daughter’s gifts to create unique impact. “My oldest daughter was doing extremely well in school, and all signs indicated she could choose any field of study she wanted in college and excel in it. As it turns out, she was most interested in becoming an artist, and was accepted and made plans to attend a prestigious design school in Chicago beginning in the fall of 2020. With pandemic restrictions in place, the idea of studying art virtually seemed somewhat ridiculous to us all, so she decided to take a gap year. During that time she became a licensed tattoo artist. The entire experience got me thinking about how fortunate it was that we could support her in following her dreams, and then about how we could support other developing artists who might not be as lucky.” Since Bernard was looking for ways to further engage in the arts due to the family connection, he enthusiastically accepted the offer to become a jurist in the artist selection for Triangle Community Artists Gallery. His kids weren’t so sure, however. “My girls were actually afraid,” Bernard laughs. “’You don’t know anything about art, you’re going to do a terrible job!’ I told them to relax – that we would do it together – and we did! It was a really nice family activity, particularly in the midst of COVID.”
But they didn’t stop at just selecting artists. Bernard’s younger daughter wanted to share the artwork they had considered for the Artists Gallery with her friends at school, which subsequently blossomed into a full-blown juried art program at her school. She organized a committee to formally review the artwork and selected a few artists, which they shared with the head of the school. Within a few months, three or four artists were commissioned for work to be displayed at the school in Cary.
As Bernard looks to his future as well as his relationship with the Foundation, his earlier mentioned quality of mindfulness is on full display. He thinks about things in the short, medium, and long term. “In the short-term, I plan to get to know more about the community, what it means here in the Triangle, and be more engaged. Medium-term, when my children are a bit older, I plan to introduce them to what my wife and I are doing with our giving and make sure they share in our giving mindset. Long term it’s really about, ‘How do I tell more people about this and get them involved?’ Some people focus a lot on saving money to provide for their children’s future, or some people just want to write a check and think no more about it, but I hope to bring more people into the fold to collaborate with the Foundation to truly bring about positive change and innovation in the community through active involvement.”