Ludia Li always carries a song of hope and help in her heart. It's an attribute that has helped her to not only overcome challenges in her own life, but to also make conditions better for those less fortunate.
It's a deep commitment that recently earned Li a coveted Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.
Li, 60, started out in her native Hong Kong as a talented young singer of traditional Chinese songs. She was so accomplished, it provided her a trip to Vancouver to perform in 1972. That was when she fell in love with the serene surroundings of the Lower Mainland - a great departure from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and the cramped, one-room apartment she lived in with her parents, four siblings and grandmother.
Little did Li know back then that one day she would return to Canada and make a significant impact on her new home, both through business and philanthropy.
Eager to leave Hong Kong, Li landed in Canada in 1989 with her husband and three young children. First stop was the small town of High Prairie in northern Alberta where she worked in the kitchen of a small restaurant.
"I think High Prairie had a population of about 1,800 people back then," she said.
With little English
skills, Li immersed herself in the town's community and quickly developed a rapport with customers.
But with severe temperatures - in winter the mercury would often drop below minus 50 degrees - and a failing marriage, Li left High Prairie for Vancouver to begin life anew as a single mom.
"I worked for Ricky's (All Day Grill), two jobs. One shift in the morning at one restaurant, then another shift that night at another Ricky's," she said. "I knew I had to make things work to support my kids."
After two years of double-shifting, a friend who knew Li was adept at engaging with customers suggested she try her hand at selling cars and sent her off to the Volvo dealership in Coquitlam.
Despite not having a shred of experience in the business, Li used her natural charm and caring personality to earn the trust of clients who made her the number one salesperson after just two months on the job.
"I was in quite a unique position. Back then, there were very few women selling cars, especially Chinese women," she said. "I am forever grateful to the sales manager there for giving me a chance."
But the dedication she showed in treating customers like family paid off and Li rose through the ranks with Volvo, and after a one-year stop with Ford, shifted gears to start selling BMWs at Auto West in 1999.
Since then, she has gone from strength to strength, being named sales master at the Richmond dealership from 2000 to 2011 based on the impressive number of vehicles bearing the famous blue and white roundel she has delivered to clients annually.
While achieving all of her success, Li has remained committed to bettering the community.
"I have always felt it important to give something back to the community," she said. "I knew what it was like to grow up with virtually nothing, so I needed to help provide for others."
The list of groups Li has thrown her support behind over the years is impressive.
She has been a chairperson and now board member of BC Children's Hospital Foundation
and helped to develop the annual "For Children We Care" Gala that in 2010 raised more than $1.7 million.
She also developed the "Young Superhero Program" that had more than 200 teenagers graduate from a leadership training program that encourages students to raise funds for the hospital.
Li has also been a fundraiser for the Lions Club, BC Cancer Society, World Vision and fundraised to build a school in China.
"The success of our fundraising efforts would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of volunteers like Ludia. Her selfless act exemplifies the true meaning of philanthropy, serving and contributing wholeheartedly back to her community," wrote Sunny Leung, philanthropy director with BC Children's Hospital in nominating Li for the Diamond Jubilee Award.
Li credits her deep Christian faith and humble upbringing for helping her accomplish the many demanding roles she undertakes at work and for charity fundraisers, where she still sings.
"I have been through so many difficult times in my life that when I see someone happy, I am happy as well," she
"Helping the community is my second job. I would spend all of my time, if I could, helping others because I see so many people who need help."