Biomedical researcher Li Lin Ong dies after brief illness

Li Lin Ong passed away recently after a brief illness and is survived by her husband Dominick, sister Gaik Lin, brother Richard, brother-in-law James, niece Hannah, and many aunts and uncles, cousins, colleagues, and friends. Her parents, Poh Sun Ong and Molly Khoo-Ong, predeceased her. Li was quite religious and will have a spirit plaque put up next to her parents at the Mahayana Buddhist temple in NYC and additional Buddhist and Catholic services may be held, time to be determined later.

Li was born in Penang, Malaysia, and came to the US when she was 18 to attend college. Li went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Biology from the College of St Elizabeth and Fairleigh Dickinson University, respectively. After college, she decided to stay in the US to work and eventually became a naturalized US citizen.

Li worked for over 25 years in biomedical research and as a lab director at some of the most prestigious medical schools in the US, including UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, Cornell University Medical College in NYC,  Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx in NY and New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York. At one point she was running 18 research laboratories with 115 personnel at the same time. She also mentored many medical students in both research techniques and in navigating life.

Li was the author, including the first author, of several research studies and abstracts in respected journals and was a presenter at research conferences, including the Developmental Biology journal, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) journal, the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research Workshop and the AIDS Clinical Trials Meeting in Washington, D.C.

In her later years, Li worked as an Adjunct Professor at Kean University in NJ, where she taught Biology, Parasitology, Reproductive Physiology, and Criminal Science. She was also a co-advisor to the Beta Beta Beta Biology National Honor Society at Kean University. She mentored and advised many students both there and at other schools and closely worked with a select few students, who later went on to attend medical school (including getting PhDs), and have careers in pharmacological and medical research. She was very proud of them and they affectionately called her ‘Auntie’.

On a personal level, Li loved traveling, gardening, cooking, and buying many red, pink, and purple items of clothing. She appreciated the simple things in life and few people could look in awe at a sunset, an oddly-shaped tree, or some interesting clouds like she could. She loved old farmhouses, red barns, grain silos, and hilly, winding roads, where the next destination around the curve was unknown. 

Li liked a good joke and once answered a knock at the Catholic rectory where she worked during college with the rectory’s German Shepherd next to her. When she opened the door, a  US Army recruiter in full uniform was trying to locate the person named ‘Denta Shepard’ who had replied to an army recruitment postcard. After a short conversation where she admitted nothing, Li quickly closed the door and the recruiter never did find Denta Shephard.

Inquisitive to the end, she enjoyed watching the news, learning about advances in science, and getting involved in a new enterprise or project. Li helped many people in her life and was always generous with her time, her money, and with advice. She had an excellent memory and would regale people with her wonderful stories and surprise relatives with her detailed memories of their decades-ago childhood. 

So Li, as you go down the next winding road, where the destination is unknown, please enjoy all the beautiful flowers, trees, and gardens and rest in peace. Forget all the worries of the world and know that you fought the good fight, lived a noble life, and were loved by many people.