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The Influentials
Y. Ping Sun

This rare homecoming queen/attorney is a rock star at Rice University

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05, The Influentials, Y. Ping Sun, March 2013
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

It's almost impossible to walk across the Rice University campus with Y. Ping Sun, wife of Rice president David Leebron, without her being stopped by admiring students and faculty. She is so well-liked, in fact, that shortly after arriving in Houston in 2004, the students elected her homecoming queen.

She, being a serious-mined attorney and mother of two, thought it was surely a joke. Not so.

Nine years after moving to Houston from New York City, Ping describes herself as part-part-time lawyer (of counsel with Yetter Coleman, specializing in corporate securities law), part-time University Representative (her official title) and full-time mother to a 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. Most in Houston know her as the ultimate ambassador for Rice — her charm, beauty and intellect a potent combination that sells.

Born in Shanghai, Ping moved to the U.S. to attend Princeton University where she graduated cum laude. She later earned a law degree from Columbia and was practicing law in New York when David accepted the position at Rice.

Hers is a familiar face to faculty and staff at the university where she serves on the boards of the Shepherd School of Music and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Invitations to her "Something New for Lunch at Rice University" are as coveted by faculty members as by the community leaders who are included in the popular series.

Off campus, Ping is equally admired for her verve, gentle wit and intelligence. A strong proponent of community involvement, she is a trustee of Texas Children's Hospital and holds board memberships with the Asia Society Texas Center, St. John’s School and the United Way. 

For the record, we asked what the "Y" stands for. Moon, she said, explaining that the translation of her names is "Green Water Lily Under the Moon."

What is your chief characteristic?

Upbeat. Perseverance is another word that comes to mind. Well, if you ask David, he will say that I am very stubborn. I won't take "no" for an answer.

What characteristic do you admire most in others?

Generosity, a generous spirit. You find it in Houston so much. I’ve never seen a place where people are so generous and ready to support worthy causes.

What is your idea of happiness?

Spending time with David and our children.

Your idea of misery?

After flying 13, 14 hours from China, standing in line trying to go through customs in Chicago or Los Angeles. But things will get much better because we will have non-stop flights from Beijing to Houston and Houston to Beijing starting July 11. Air China will be coming.

The best advice you ever received?

The best advice I have received was from my grandmother who told me to always be true to yourself and be kind to others.

With whom would you most like to have dinner?

Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and Zhou Enlai, he was my hero (for saving her family from ruin during the Cultural Revolution).

Your favorite pastime?

Yoga.

Something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

People probably will be surprised to learn that I’ve done a headstand on the Eiffel Tower and also in the plane flying over both the Pacific and Atlantic. That’s the most effective way of getting rid of a headache . . . David thinks it's crazy.

A personal motto that you live by?

I always say where there is a will, there is a way. When I encounter some difficulties, I just keep telling myself that there is a will, there is a way.

What does it mean to be a real Houstonian?

You have to have a can-do spirit. You have to be open-minded, welcoming newcomers. And I will hope that people view me as a true Houstonian because I do feel that I am a true Houstonian.

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