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Secret Donor Identified as Ex-Cabinet Member`s Brother

Posted February. 20, 2009 03:10,   


The funeral of Choi Hyeong-gyu, the younger brother of the late former Interior Minister Choi In-gyu, was held at Samsung Medical Center Feb. 7. Choi Hyeong-gyu was 88.

“You asked me to study hard and become the light of the world, but we have yet to follow your wish,” said Seo Jeong-hee, 56, technical adviser at ESOP Learning.

Seo delivered the eulogy on behalf of more than 6,000 students who received scholarships. He tried to hold back tears, but ended up crying as he read the eulogy.

Choi Hyeong-gyu started elementary school at 13 and could not go to middle school because his parents could not afford his education. He did not shed tears even when his older brother was executed.

And he remained an anonymous donor who gave millions of dollars in scholarships to more than 6,000 students.

While Seo delivered the eulogy, he looked at a former newspaper reporter who introduced him to Choi 45 years ago.

○ First Encounter in Seoul (Jan. 1975)

Korea University, Anam-dong, Seoul (Dec. 1974)

Seo, then 21, could do nothing but stare at the ground. He found his name on the list of those who entered the university’s psychology department.

He felt no joy over being accepted at the prestigious university because of worry over paying the tuition.

Four years had passed since Seo graduated from high school. The young man took on a number of jobs to make ends meet, including private tutoring, delivery of liquor and peddling.

“Had I not applied, I wouldn’t have felt so bitter,” Seo said, adding he regretted applying to the department at that time.

Seo racked his brain to find a way to pay tuition. What suddenly popped into his head was a Dong-A Ilbo article on a girl who went through school with the help of a benefactor after a newspaper covered her story.

Seo sent a letter to Dong-A right away. Seoul Natto CEO Lee Yong-su, who was then a news reporter, read the letter and posted it on the “Paper Basket” section of the paper in 1975.

Soon after the paper ran Seo’s story, a middle-aged man contacted him.

The two met at a coffee shop in front of the New Democratic Party headquarters in Seoul’s Mapo district. The middle-aged man gave Seo a receipt for a tuition payment of 250,000 won (500 U.S. dollars). Then the man abruptly left without giving his name.

The unknown philanthropist paid Seo’s tuition three more times. Seo asked around and eventually identified his benefactor as Choi Hyeong-gyu, the head of a taxi company.

Seo visited the company but Choi refused to see him.

Seo visited Choi every May after graduating from college, but Choi was always away, as if he was trying to avoid seeing him.

The first time Seo and Lee, who helped Seo meet Choi, and Choi met together was at a restaurant in Seoul’s Insa-dong in 1990.

Choi told about himself on the condition that Seo and Lee would not disclose what he did for others until he died.