The Secret to Happiness

After a lucrative career in finance, yet remaining unfulfilled, Ray Chambers began his life’s quest to fund philanthropic causes to improve and save lives.

When Ray Chambers saw photos of three children in an African village, at first he thought they were sleeping. “Then I learned they were unconscious from malarial coma,” he recalls. “Those children later died and millions more were dying. I had to do something.”

Ray Chambers SB’64


After presiding over Wesray Capital Corporation, Ray Chambers has devoted his life to founding philanthropic organizations like Malaria No More and promoting others such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark. “The most direct route to happiness is in service to others,” he says.

Malaria, transmitted by a mosquito bite, can be prevented with protective mosquito nets. Chambers SB’64 cofounded the organization Malaria No More in 2006 to provide nets. So effective were his efforts that in 2008 the Secretary-General of the United Nations named him Special Envoy for Malaria. “We raised $1 billion, covered one billion people with mosquito nets, and saved the lives of seven million children,” he says.


Leading the fight against malaria is just one of Chambers’s many philanthropic activities. He uses his considerable business skills to improve lives—skills he learned at Rutgers. A native of Newark’s West Ward, Chambers was the first in his family to obtain a college education. He attended Rutgers University–Newark on a scholarship and took classes in statistics, accounting, economics, taxation, and finance. “I wasn’t the greatest student but took to learning business like a fish to water,” he says. “It all came together in my third year. I realized how these subjects could be applied in business and in life.”

He graduated from the Rutgers School of Business in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and built a successful career as cofounder and chair of Wesray Capital Corporation, a private equity holding company. Despite his success, he felt a lingering sense of unfulfillment. He began spending time at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark. “The next large business deal no longer had any allure,” he says. “I was smitten by the Boys & Girls Clubs and wanted to provide opportunities for these kids who faced unique challenges.”

In 1989 he retired from business to pursue philanthropy full time. Almost three decades later, Chambers has supported mentoring and funded college educations in Newark, and he has expanded his work globally through his MCJ Amelior Foundation. He is also founding chair of the Points of Light Foundation, which emphasizes mentoring, and cofounder, with Colin Powell, of America’s Promise Alliance, which helps children and youth through a variety of initiatives.

“Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that the most direct route to happiness is in service to others,” Chambers says. “I appreciate this honor and I’m grateful to Rutgers for giving me the confidence and tools to try and make the world a better place.”  — Mary Ann Littell


Bringing a Message of Hope

Alice Lazzarini had a distinguished career researching the cause of Parkinson’s, an illness that later came to afflict her, though hardly diminishing her zeal to help and to live life.

Alice Lazzarini GSNB’76,’96


As a genetic researcher working under Roger Duvoisin, a renowned Parkinson’s researcher at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Alice Lazzarini published an academic paper in 1994 that revealed the possible genetic components of Parkinson’s. Later, she helped identify PARK1, the first causative mutation for the disease.

As a young genetic researcher, Alice Lazzarini never imagined her work would turn the tide of thinking about the causes of Parkinson’s disease. A paper she published in 1994 was one of the first to shed light on possible genetic components of Parkinson’s. In 1996 and 1997, Lazzarini GSNB’76,’96 was part of a team of researchers that identified PARK1, the first causative mutation for Parkinson’s disease. The discovery made headlines worldwide and changed the direction of Parkinson’s research by examining a protein considered key to the disease. 

Lazzarini attributes her success to her Rutgers education, beginning with her master’s degree in genetic counseling. “That degree got me started,” she says. “I took a job coordinating a statewide program for Huntington’s disease, a debilitating neurological disorder, and my career began to flourish.” The program was administered at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS).


In 1990, Roger Duvoisin, a renowned Parkinson’s researcher and then chair of the Department of Neurology at RWJMS, recruited Lazzarini to join the department, where he was building a world-class research team—and a legacy. Working long hours in the lab and raising a family, she obtained her Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology at the age of 56. “I refer to the Ph.D. sometimes as Mount Everest,” she says. “It was there; so I had to climb it.” Lazzarini eventually moved to the pharmaceutical industry, working in drug development for Parkinson’s. In 2004, however, she began to notice troubling symptoms, including a tremor. In the grandest of ironies, Lazzarini was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Through medication and rigorous exercise that help control her symptoms, she lives an active life. Now retired (though still a clinical assistant professor of neurology at RWJMS), Lazzarini devotes herself to writing, speaking, and advocacy. In fall 2016, she was honored to be invited to present a plenary session at the Fourth World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon. “I shared very personal experiences and concentrated on bringing a message of hope,” she says. She has a blog ( and published a book, Both Sides Now: A Journey From Researcher to Patient (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014).

“It was a thrill and a huge surprise to be inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni,” Lazzarini says. “I’m honored to be included with such an outstanding group of inductees.” — Mary Ann Littell


Information Is Power

SY Lau, who anticipated—and promoted—the growth of the internet in China, leads a company that reaches hundreds of millions of users daily.

SY Lau RBS’04


SY Lau is the senior executive vice president and chair of group marketing and global branding of Tencent Holdings Ltd. and chair of Tencent Advertising. “Why do you want to learn something you are unfamiliar with?” he asks. “Simply because that’s the future. Internet was the future and internet is the future.

Growing up in Malaysia, SY Lau could see that life wasn’t easy. A good education was hard to come by, standards of living weren’t high, and nothing was taken for granted. Lau RBS’04 was going to have to think for himself if he was going to succeed.

First, he took a big chance and moved to China, where he went on to earn his executive M.B.A. at Rutgers Business School, which once offered the degree in that nation. Lau began his career in advertising, rising to a position within the global agency McCann Erickson. He was then recruited by Tencent, a Chinese internet company—a far cry from his expertise in advertising. Yet his leap into the seemingly unknown made sense. At the time, only 10 percent of the population in China used the internet, Lau estimates, or about 100 million users. Tencent’s online media services platform, called Online Media Group, offered only one internet portal. “I felt that many people saw the potential in the IT industry by focusing on the ‘T’ part of the equation,” he says, referring to information technology. “I felt the real power would be driven, ultimately, by the ‘I’ part, the information that could create enormous value for humanity.”


Today, under Lau’s leadership as the senior executive vice president and chair of group marketing and global branding of Tencent Holdings Ltd. and chair of Tencent Advertising, the platform has grown into a “media matrix.” Video-streaming service Tencent Video reaches 50 million mobile users daily, providing them with British and American programming as well as original content. Every day, more than 250 million mobile users access Tencent News. And the 2015 launch of the Digital Ad Ratings system, a joint effort from Tencent and Nielsen, was the first of its kind for the companies in China.

Lau also participates in cultural exchange events and promotes relations between China and the United States. In recognition of his numerous achievements, Lau recently became the first executive of a Chinese company to receive the prestigious Cannes Lions Media Person of the Year Award. Now he is among the newest members of the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. And it’s all because Lau dared to live a life outside the lines.

“Why do you want to learn something you are unfamiliar with?” he asks. “Simply because that’s the future. Internet was the future and internet is the future.” — Melissa Kvidahl


A Feat of Engineering

During a career overseeing Weeks Marine Inc., Richard Weeks seized opportunity where it lay, expanding his marine-construction company into an industry powerhouse.

Richard Weeks ENG’50


Richard Weeks is the chair of Weeks Marine Inc., which has played key roles in the aftermath of U.S. disasters such as 9/11, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “If you want to succeed,” he says, “you have to grab opportunity and then perform.”

Arriving at Rutgers in the fall of 1946 as a first-year student, Richard Weeks encountered a university awash in returning World War II veterans, serious young men who were taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. During those early months, Weeks ENG’50 took the measure of himself and saw that he could hold his own with these guys, many of them upperclassmen.

“I learned a lot from them; they had a different attitude,” says Weeks, the third-generation owner of Weeks Marine Inc. “I fit right in with this group, and the vets helped me grow up faster. Rutgers was an exciting place. I had a goal and did the work.”


Weeks, who grew up in the Bronx and Rutherford, New Jersey, wasn’t a stellar student. But, competitive by nature, he got decent grades working through a very demanding curriculum as an engineering major, and he cultivated a strong inclination to think for himself, an independent streak that served him well in business. After graduation, when he began working for his father’s stevedoring company (loading cargo ships) in New York Harbor, he realized it could be doing more with its equipment and the opportunities around them.

When his turn came to run the enterprise, he expanded the family business, founded in 1919, and diversified its scope of operation bit by bit, buying equipment and breaking into new markets. Today, the company, of which he is chair, is a leading marine construction, dredging, and tunneling firm, whose daily operations are overseen by his son Richard S. Weeks, the CEO and president. Weeks Marine, with far-flung operations in the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, Canada, and the New York region, came to the rescue after seminal U.S. disasters: 9/11, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the BP oil spill, and the emergency Hudson River landing of the US Airways commuter jet piloted by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

Weeks recently came to the aid of Rutgers by donating a multimillion-dollar gift to the School of Engineering to help fund a new engineering building at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, the Richard Weeks Hall of Engineering, which will be completed in 2018. “I expect Rutgers to be on the forefront of providing an engineering education,” says Weeks. “If you want to succeed, you have to grab opportunity and then perform.” — David W. Major