1995 Honorary Fellow
In different circumstances, we may have been honouring Helmut Sohmen today as a leading lawyer and public servant. Having studied as an undergraduate in his native Austria, he went on to obtain three graduate law degrees in America and then practiced law in Canada until the late 1960s.
However, it has been to the great benefit of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts that he decided in 1970 to join the World-wide Shipping organization of the late Sir Y K Pao, of which he became Chairman in 1986. In the world of business and shipping, Dr Sohmen is a leading international figure and holds many important appointments which include his Honorary Presidency of the Baltic and International Maritime Council and the International Vice-Chairmanship of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. His public service appointments in Hong Kong have included membership of the Legislative Council and of the Consultative Committee for the Drafting of the Basic Law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
But it is not only the world of business and shipping which has benefited from his intellectual gifts and incisive mind. As a native of the country which gave the world the genius of Mozart, it was natural that in 1986 he should respond positively to the request that the take on the Chairmanship of the Academy Council to oversee the Academy’s development during its most crucial early years. As an international businessman, he had the vision to see that by inviting a nucleus of outstanding international students to study at the Academy, the standards achieved by all Academy students would benefit. He made this possible through his personal generosity by establishing the Duchess of Kent International Scholarship Fund. This fund has helped students from all over the world to study at the Academy, and not least made possible the introduction of Western opera into the curriculum of the School of Music.
In 1986, the first year of Dr Sohmen’s chairmanship, the full-time student enrolment at the Academy was 360, all studying on Diploma or Certificate programmes. When he retired from the Chairmanship eight years later in December last year, the full-time student enrolment had almost doubled, with the students studying on programmes up to Degree level. The leadership and support given by Dr Sohmen in this period of rapid development played a significant part in helping the Academy to achieve its present degree granting status, and it is therefore fitting that we should be honouring him today when His Excellency has just conferred degrees on the Academy’s first cohort of Degree graduates.
Sir, to recognize his outstanding contribution to the development of the Academy, I have the honour to present Dr Helmut Sohmen for the Fellowship of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.