Kry Lay, a legendary educator and community leader who helped thousands of Cambodian refugees assimilate into life in Long Beach, has died. He was 79.
Lay, who helped form the Cambodian Association of America and develop the first bilingual Khmer-English curriculum in California for k-12 students, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease late last month, said daughter Suny Lay Chang.
“My father was an amazing man with a fabulous life of service to the community,” Chang said. “He was a modest, humble man who never wanted to take credit for all of his achievements.”
Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach harbor commissioner, called her longtime friend one of the founding fathers of the Cambodian community in Long Beach. Thousands of refugees fled the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and ’80s, settling in Long Beach. The coastal metropolis is home to the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of the Southeast Asian nation.
Lowenthal joined multiple others who, in the wake of Lay’s death, described him as a revered figure among Long Beach’s Cambodian population.
He played a major role in the formation of the South East Asian Learners program, within the Long Beach Unified School District, where he helped developed the bilingual Khmer-English curriculum. During his 24 years as an instructional associate and consultant for that LBUSD program, Lay established himself as an expert on the education of Cambodian refugees, inspiring thousands of the immigrants, and helping bridge the cultural gap between Khmer students and their non-Cambodian teachers.
“He was a loving, caring, brilliant educator, a giant in the community,” Lowenthal said. “He educated so many people on Cambodian refugees, how they struggled, how they were living, their culture, everything about them.”
Kry Lay was born on Dec. 10, 1941, in Oudong, Cambodia. As a youth, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk and served as a monk for 12 years. He was a theology student at the Buddhist University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, and wrote three books: “Noble Wealth,” “Power of Unity” and “Religion and State.”
He was in India, where he attended a university — receiving his master’s degree in history and political science — when Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. The mass death and reeducation of those unable to flee became immortalized as the killing fields. FULL STORY: PRESSTELEGRAM