The Mathematics of 4 Working Brothers •


When Ruby Wang (1932-2018) died, she gave custody of her paintings to us, her 4 sons. Although we knew her death was imminent, we had theretofore little need to consider the inevitable. Knowing her days were drawing short from the complications of pancreatic cancer and having collectively decided that 2 years of treatment had been enough, we converged on the Los Angeles area where she was living. Seven days before her death as the growing tumor clamped down on her small intestine slowly starving her, we 4 celebrated our last supper together with her. There she asked us what was going to become of her art work. Although there was no hesitancy that we would preserve her legacy, we had little clue how. We started talking immediately. 

Our sibling roles had become quite distinct, a function of variables that included where we lived (Central, Pacific, Eastern, and Mountain Time zones, respectively), our professional circumstances, our own family situations, ways that we had been contributing to artistic opportunities for Mother, etc.

When it first became apparent to me that AB were not equal to CD, I made the assertion to D who immediately concurred. AB were the hands-on ones who took initiative purposefully, particularly with the care of our mother and late father. CD were the ones who observed and supported. When I shared the assertion next with B, he instantly guffawed, “Of course, AB is greater than CD.”

A had his own take which he volunteered in an independent conversation. We had agreed the remaining 3 of us would become board members in a business that he had already established years before to support Mother’s work as an artist. When I commented about the concern over deadlocked votes, he responded thoughtfully, “We can give AB 51% voting power.”

Each of us 4 had our strengths and weaknesses. As the previous sole proprietor of the business, A was experienced at considering both opportunities to pursue and the related implications of doing so: A>BCD.

B’s command of conversational Chinese and his keen sensitivity to culture and the related dynamics was refined through years of socializing with wife Y’s Taiwanese-speaking family: B>ACD.

D’s own acute sensitivity to prevailing needs and his ability to persist at everything he started made him a diligent workhorse, constantly champing at the bit: D>ABC.

And I contributed astute observations about our circumstances, occasionally uttering profundities (vs. profanities) and employing my expansive vocabulary: C>ABD.

These were all realities that self-disclosed as we executed our first posthumous show for Mother at her alma mater in late 2019 (Living Water, Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan), carrying forward the plans she had initiated before she died.

ABCD have met consistently in the years since then making persistent progress running the family business. As far as the practicalities of decision making, we circumvent tied votes altogether by doing everything with unanimous consent: A=B=C=D.

Ruby H. Wang


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