In Memory of






Obituary for Benjamin Marks Jia Xian Woo

It is with the heaviest grief that our family shares that the warm, brilliant, funny, and endlessly creative Benjamin Marks Jia Xian Woo died unexpectedly on November 11 at Vancouver General Hospital. He was 32.

Benjamin was predeceased by his grandparents, Mong Swee Fong and Woo Hon Thoong. He is deeply mourned by his parents, Patricia McAvity and Yuen Pau Woo; his siblings Naomi, Emma, and Noah; his grandparents Marks and Margaret McAvity. He is missed by aunts, uncles, cousins, and family in Canada, the US, the UK, Malaysia, and Singapore, and friends scattered around the world.

Benjamin was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. After moving to North Vancouver at age 4, he attended
École Sherwood Park, Sir Winston Churchill High School and the Vancouver Academy of Music. Benjamin had a voracious appetite for knowledge. He studied Philosophy, Cognition, Brain, and Behavior at Harvard, completed a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music, and began Law School at McGill. He was a volunteer for the St. James Music Academy, music director of the Din & Tonics, conductor for the Harvard Mozart Society Orchestra, a DJ for college radio stations, a member of the Signet Society, and involved in numerous musical, theatrical, film, and academic projects.

But Benjamin was not defined by these accomplishments. Rather, it was his belief in love as “the stimulating force of goodness” that we remember him for—a love that ended and began in deep connection to his family.
“We make music and sing songs and spread joy”, he wrote; “we live and breathe our family’s stories”. To Naomi, he was a treasured collaborator; to Emma, a playful debater; to Noah, an adoring advocate. He valued his parents and grandparents as his greatest champions; to them, he was a cherished companion.

Anyone who met Benjamin was aware of his sensitive and skillful music-making. In addition to his mastery of the piano—including winning numerous national competitions—he sang, conducted, played cello, composed,
improvised, and, in recent years, was learning to play the oud. He took great joy in sharing music with others:
whether he was performing recitals of the Bach solo cello suites for other residents at Sumac Place in
Gibsons or posting albums on Bandcamp.

Benjamin will also be remembered as a sparkling and imaginative thinker. He had an insatiable curiosity and a
special gift for connecting seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas. Throughout his life, he paid close attention to the world around him. He had an unparalleled ability to find beauty in the everyday and a keen
eye for societal injustices. Benjamin channelled these observations into incisive musical compositions, poetry,
drawing, and film.

Benjamin’s gentleness, effusive kindness, and compassion for others was unwavering. He was loving and
thoughtful towards his family and friends, often sharing the little he had without a moment’s hesitation. He
was willing to engage with anyone, including those most commonly ignored and overlooked by society.
Benjamin became one of these people.

Eight years ago, through no fault of his or ours, he developed a brain illness complicated by anosognosia.
Benjamin did not need to die as a result of this illness, but his and his family’s efforts to advocate for
effective, appropriate, and compassionate treatment were unsuccessful. Some kind and knowledgeable
healthcare professionals went above and beyond. Still, they were working within a broken, stigmatising
medical system—in a society sorely lacking in the medical research, tools, and structures to care for him.
Benjamin felt the stigma. In a draft memoir that he had begun writing with his mother, he wrote: "[few]
psychiatrist[s] I have met [have] gathered more than an ounce of who I am, as far as I can see, and more often
than not projected their own depictions upon me. So if you want to know my story, you'll have to get it from
the family."

Despite those difficulties, Benjamin was able to see the lightness in dark situations, including his own. He
shared that he was dismayed that “a common view portrays [my] experiences as... an awful predicament and
horrible illness, and debilitating...”. By contrast, Benjamin wrote: “I have seen and experienced realities, inner
and outer realities, of wonder, of faith, of beauty and which I am excited to share.”

Our wish is that you will remember Benjamin as we do: someone who, even in the face of great challenges,
remained rooted in kindness and love and grounded in his family; a beautiful mind joined with an expansive
heart. In his own words, "let us grow to see family in all the people of the earth, amidst division and stupidity
and folly and darkness." ... "let us open our spirits...and play our parts, actors on a global stage with ever the
power to instill righteousness, thoughtfulness and sensitivity."

In his honour, we hope you take the time to take in “more than an ounce” of someone who is overlooked or
ignored, perhaps someone who, like Benjamin, struggles with a severe mental illness.

The funeral and reception were held on Monday, December 4, at 2 PM PST at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver. A livestream link can be found at

In lieu of flowers, we encourage donations to the Benjamin Marks Woo Memorial Fund at the Vancouver Foundation. Americans can donate directly to the Lieber Institute for Brain Development at or to the Henry Amador Center on Anosognosia at, in memory of Benjamin Woo.
Benjamin’s untimely and preventable death shows we badly need to change how we treat people with serious mental illness and anosognosia in British Columbia. We encourage you to reach out to your MLA or Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, requesting comprehensive wraparound support to enable community treatment and reform to the “deemed consent provision” of the Mental Health/Representative Agreement Act to ensure the right to have a trusted representative, family member, or friend help with care and treatment decisions when needed.

The family invites you to offer condolences, listen to Benjamin’s music and share your memories at