5 Generations of Doctors & Public Service
The foundation of a strong family and cultural identity are essential in Vietnamese society. For several generations, Dr. Tram’s family has been defined by a tradition of academic excellence, a passion for science, and an appreciation for the beauty of helping others.
Dr. Nguyen Cong Tru (1778-1858), Dr. Tram’s Great-Great-Grandfather, was born into a Confucian family with a tradition of supporting people’s health goals with herbal plants. In additional to becoming a doctor of herbal traditions, he was a respected economist, Confucian and Buddhist scholar, and a brilliant poet. He wrote more than 1,000 poems in the style of Vietnamese pictographic script.
Dr. Tru also served his King as a General and was appointed the Minister of Defense in 1836 during the struggles against the French. Dr. Tru’s poetry and accomplishments are part of the Vietnamese history curriculum for high school students. He is known for stating, “Should I be at my last gasp, I will fight tooth and nail for the country’s freedom and independence.” Commissioned by the King with developing agriculture, he reclaimed vast tracts of land, developing nearly 50,000 acres, which alleviated poverty amongst the poorest farmers.
When he was 75 years old, the farmers invited Dr. Tru to a celebration of their bountiful harvest, and local residents expressed their gratitude by building shrines in several villages in his honor. Although living in the midst of feudal corruption, Dr. Tru was unfailingly honest and straightforward. His character drew attack from corrupt officials, but the truth about his honest and modest nature ultimately prevailed. His funeral was attended by King Thu Duc.
Little is known about the Great Grandfather of Dr. Tram. She is aware that he was also a Practitioner of Herbal Traditions and passed this family tradition and knowledge on to his son.
Dr. Nguyen Gia Thoai (1892-1954), Dr. Tram’s Grandfather, was born in Annan, in what is now the northernmost part of Vietnam. Dr. Thoai was famous for many herbal blends, which he developed from traditional Vietnamese herbs. One of the most beneficial was a snakebite treatment. While walking along the riverbank one day, he saw a poisonous snake chasing a rat. The snake caught and bit the rat, but was startled by the sounds of people approaching, and dropped the rat. Dr. Thoai watched the rat run to the adjacent rice paddy, where some wild grasses were growing. The rat grabbed a mouthful of the wild grasses, ate some of the grass, while chewing more of it into a mash. He proceeded to stuff the concoction into his wound . . . and lived. The medicine for snakebite treatment, developed by Dr. Thoai from those wild grasses, saved the lives of countless rural farmers. Dr. Thoai also passed on his traditional of intellectual study to his son, Dr. Truong.
Dr. Nguyen Van Truong (1920–2007), Dr. Tram’s father, led a life full of astonishing achievement. He began his career as a water and forestry engineer. He earned a PhD in Forestry in HaNoi, followed by a Doctorate of Science in Dresden, Germany. He spoke six languages: Vietnamese, German, English, French, Russian, and Chinese.
Dr. Truong became one of Vietnam’s first ecologists. He taught farmers how to build Ecological Economy Villages—a total of twelve throughout the North and Center of Vietnam. The purpose of the villages was twofold: to empower people to prosper economically with their selection and management of crops in challenging soil conditions, and to beautify their surroundings. He taught his philosophy to the people. “In our garden, first we need to grow ‘poverty eradication’ trees,” he said. “But because this is also a land of rich culture, do not forget to add those trees that evoke artistic beauty, such as peach, pear, plum, or pomegranate. A glance at a peach or a peach blossom will remind visitors of the word (peach) in the beautiful Kieu lines.”
In his personal life, Dr. Truong embodied his belief in creating a balance between a passion for objective scientific matters and an appreciation for beauty and culture. He was credited as an expert in the , an epic poem of 3,254 verses, written by Nguyen Du (1766-1820), which Dr. Truong had committed to memory. The uses a classic poetic style to recount both the complex political and moral struggles between dynasties in the North and the South during the late 18th Century, exemplified by a young woman who sacrifices herself for the benefit of her family.
Some of Dr. Truong’s favorite excerpts were:
(From the preface)
Dr. Truong’s vision for his people and his country continued throughout his life. In 1990, at the age of 70, he petitioned the government to found the Institute of Ecological Economy. At the time, there was no precedent for the legal entity of a private institute, and Mr. Truong was not a Party member. It was thought quite risky to allow contact with foreigners by a person with a potentially “unstable political stand.” Nevertheless, this came at a time following the 6th Party Congress in 1986, when the government made fundamental policy decisions to move Vietnam forward, and embrace the policy of (Renovation).
Doi Moi led to reforms and restructuring that created a socialist-oriented market economy. The state sector plays an important role in the economy, especially in certain strategic sectors, but also encourages, respects, and supports private enterprise and investment. The policies of Doi Moi ultimately led to President Clinton dropping the U.S. Embargo against Vietnam, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and major Western economies, such as the U.S. and Japan.
In this context, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet made the decision to support Dr. Truong, and permission was granted for the first private institute to be established in Vietnam. This represented a significant display of trust on the part of the government and Prime Minister Kiet. Dr. Truong’s autonomous Institute was established, and was allowed to elect its own director. The purpose of the Institute was to assist poor rural people living in areas with unsustainable eco-systems, in order to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty. Dr. Truong was chosen to lead the Institute and did so for the next 17 years, until his death in 2007. At the age of 84, Dr. Truong was awarded the honorable title of Hero of Labor in the Renovation Period.
This remarkable man was also the Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam’s first Encyclopedia. This is a scholarly work of three massive volumes, compiled over many years. It required the oversight of countless authors and detailed editing. Such an achievement would stand alone as the testament to a man’s life, but it was just one of many accomplishments for Dr. Truong.
In addition to being a kind and loving father, Dr. Truong’s incredible life of scientific research and the pursuit of knowledge inspired Dr. Tram from her earliest years. He once exhorted his daughter: “There are many useful Vietnamese herbs … Why do we have to buy so many imported (products)? You should research the valuable health traditions which can be developed from Vietnamese herbs for the benefit of our people.”
That challenge from her father became Dr. Tram’s life passion. When you learn of her family history and tradition, it comes as no surprise that this remarkable woman has dedicated herself to bringing natural health and wellness to people around the world.