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Tuesday February 16, 2010

Taekwondo master, dead in Haiti quake, blazed a trail for his sport in Quebec

He was working on a World Bank contract to improve standards to help buildings withstand natural disasters

Continued from Page 1

This turned sour after he brokered the sale of a $1-million cotton shipment to a Vietnamese state company. When the merchandise didn't show up, Vietnamese authorities blamed the middleman, Mr. Quan, and tossed him in jail in 1994. After a one-day trial, he received a life sentence.

He was held in gruesome conditions, with little food, no clean water and clouds of mosquitoes. He was sometimes chained. He lost 35 pounds. He had to fight other inmates who threatened his life.

Thinking he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, he felt suicidal. But his martial arts training sustained him, as did conversations with Buddhist monks held as political prisoners. "It was a terrible strain, always to have to be on your guard. You needed absolute control over yourself. ... You had to be tough to survive," he said later.

He was unaware that his plight drew enormous public support in Quebec City, prompting demonstrations and a 125,000-name petition. After three years, he was released, months before Vietnam was to host an international event, a francophone summit.

When Mr. Quan came home, he found his business ruined. His family had been forced to sell their house and rely on support from friends and relatives.

He started a new company, an engineering firm that helped foreign countries improve their building codes.

In an interview with Le Soleil, his business partner, André Gobeil, recalled Mr. Quan's work ethic: "When he'd call me at 6:45 the morning because he had an idea, and that was sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday, I'd have to tell him 'Quan, I'll finish breakfast, take my kids to school and we'll talk at 8:30.' He seemed to work 25 hours a day. When I'd get home I'd try to ease off. He never stopped."

Over the years Mr. Quan had become close to the Korean general Choi Hong Hi, a seminal figure in the creation of Taekwondo and the founder of the ITF. Gen. Choi lived in exile in Mississauga, after running into trouble with the South Korean regime. The general jokingly called Mr. Quan his adoptive son, Dr. Gauthier said.

After the general died in 2002, Mr. Quan was elected to succeed him as ITF president. Two other competing groups also claimed to be representing the ITF and there were lawsuits over the use of trademarks and office space. However, Mr. Quan's federation appeared to be the most legitimate, in terms of number of members, said Dr. Burdick, the martial-art historian.

For Mr. Quan, the job meant travelling around the globe to promote his philosophy that Taekwondo is a means to instill modesty, politeness and hope in young people.

"He was smart and very savvy," said Pablo Naranjo, a black belt in Santiago, Chile, who recalled how Mr. Quan, with a few concise questions, could assess whether an instructor was qualified.

A business professor, Mr. Naranjo said Mr. Quan inspired him to moonlight as an instructor at a group home for foster kids.

In the last months of his life, Mr. Quan continued to travel. He was in Haiti in September, giving Taekwondo classes. Then he was in Shanghai for business. Flying back to Quebec City, he went to the small town of Sept-Îles to visit a Taekwondo school.

By November he was in Argentina for the ITF world championships. He and Mr. MacLellan were on the same overnight flight back to Canada. He told Mr. MacLellan that he was heading to Haiti on a World Bank contract to improve building standards to help buildings sustain earthquakes and hurricanes.

"He was looking forward to it. He felt it was a country that needed help," Mr. MacLellan said.

On Jan. 12 Mr. Quan picked up his associate, Mr. Gobeil, at the Port-au-Prince airport and they headed to the Hotel Montana.

Mr. Gobeil was given a 5th-floor suite with two beds, so they agreed Mr. Quan should check out of his 3rd-floor room and share the suite. But before Mr. Quan could transfer his luggage, the quake hit.

Mr. Gobeil's suite collapsed, but he survived with a broken leg and a broken collarbone. Mr. Quan was still in the other room, more centrally located and two floors below, which disappeared under a mountain of rubble. It would be a month before his body was identified.

Mr. Quan had wanted to retire early and he had told his children he wanted to die in Vietnam. Instead he met his end in another country with a troubled history.

Tran Trieu Quan

Tran Trieu Quan was born on March 26, 1952, in Hanoi. He died in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010. He leaves his wife Nguyen Thi My. He also leaves two daughters and a son, Joliette, Cecilia and Nicolas, all of them Taekwondo black belts.

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