When remembering Vilay Chaleunrath, “Celebration” and “Community” are the core of how he lived his life. Many remember Vilay helping new immigrants in the area, leading an event for the Lao community, or raising a glass to celebrate friends and family.
Vilay was born on March 5th, 1948 in Paksane, Laos, a small farming village in the south of the capital city Vientiane. Vilay was the second youngest of six children.
He excelled early in primary school which led him to be accepted to the Lycee de Vientiane to complete his secondary education. In 1966, Vilay was one of the first few students accepted to participate in a United States High School transfer program provided by American Field Service and the U.S. State Department. Sponsored by David and Beth Noss in Tiffin, Ohio; Vilay received his U.S. High School diploma in 1968.
Vilay was honored with a scholarship from the East-West Center to continue his studies at the University of Hawaii receiving his Bachelor's Degree in Economics and Political Science in 1973. Upon graduation, he returned to Laos and worked for the USAID in the Economics Affairs Division. He also taught English at the Lao American Association in Vientiane where he met his first wife Kaysone Luangraj. They married in 1976 and looked to immigrate from Laos to flee from the challenging political landscape.
The couple was sponsored by Vilay’s former host family, the Noss’s, and moved to Ohio in October 1977. They had their first son Charles (Charlie) in December 1977 just before Vilay decided to move the family to Washington DC seeking career opportunities and to join the fledgling Lao community based in the area. They settled in Falls Church, VA in an apartment complex that housed many Lao families.
In 1978, Vilay worked at American Airlines while volunteering his time to help found the nonprofit Indochinese Community Center (ICC). Kaysone received her Associate’s High School diploma and began her career working for a corporate food service business. During this time, Vilay worked to support his family by sponsoring his two nephews, Michel and Robert, to immigrate out of Laos.
Two years later, Vilay had his second son Christopher (Bobby) and was named the first Executive Director of ICC. At the early age of 32, Vilay was now the caretaker of his wife, his two sons, his two nephews, and leading a fledgling nonprofit for an important cause.
With the help of his close friends and colleagues, Vilay worked to build ICC to be a leading organization helping immigrants and refugees. The organization provided key services most important to U.S. newcomers, such as immigration applications and documentation, English and Civics lessons, AIDS awareness, English as a second language courses, emergency food programs, and vocational support. As a result, the organization grew to over 25 staff, opened a second office based in Fairfax in 1992, and the organization was renamed Newcomers Community Service Center (NCSC) in 1999. During his 33 year tenure with ICC/NCSC, the organization serviced over 25,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylees into the Washington DC Metro area.
Vilay’s service to his family was equally immense. He and Kaysone purchased a home in Alexandria, Virginia in 1984. They needed a home with as many bedrooms as they could afford with the sole purpose of taking in and caring for more of his extended family in Laos wishing to immigrate to the U.S. He sponsored eight more nieces and nephews: Vilaysack, Mounlapakhong, Phetsamay, Damrongsith, Cecile, Geraud, Charles, Anna and his sister Bouaphanh. Every single one of them lived for a time at Vilay’s home as they settled into the country and began a new life for themselves.
While Vilay was a bedrock of his family, he also quickly became a key leader of the community. He was named “Washingtonian of the Year” in 1995, graced with the honor of being an Olympic torch-bearer in 1996, honored with the title of “Lord of Fairfax County”, and received many accolades for his service including many certificates of appreciation from Washington DC Mayor’s Office, named the Leadership Fairfax Class of 1992, and has met every U.S. President from Clinton to Obama. Vilay also supported other local nonprofits including his service as a volunteer board member for the Lao Association National Alliance, and advisor for the Lao American Women’s Association and the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center.
On May 1st, 1999, Vilay married Chanhmaly “Ly” Moungkhounsavath and added to his family stepdaughter Judy and stepson Will. Vilay and Ly were a mainstay of the lao community as they consistently hosted friends and family for cookouts or dinners countless times a year.
Vilay was a key figure in the Lao community and regarded as the binding presence to his many networks. He built very strong ties with every Lao Ambassador to the U.S. throughout the years helping with each transition of staff. You would find him hosting, organizing, and celebrating many Lao events for the community. He also served as a key leader for the Wat Lao temple, constantly volunteering his time to organize events and supporting them as a financial advisor. Though Vilay retired on March 2013, he was still very committed and actively supporting local organizations and causes.
Chanhmaly was married to Vilay for over 20 years, traveling all over the world together seeing friends and family along the way. Vilay always loved to travel and shined his brightest when he was involved with a celebration, event, festival or party. He loved to make toasts, take pictures during celebrations, refresh a friend’s wine glass, and connect new friends with old. Vilay rarely passed up an invitation to spend time with friends and family. He attended every birthday party, graduation, and family event becoming a steady presence for multiple generations. He never refused an invitation from any family member, from a quick bowl of Pho for lunch to a 2-week trip to tour Romania. Vilay would always be there. He was a loving and caring grandfather who took time to walk his grandkids Aubrey and Levi to get ice-cream, hold baby Cruz in his lap whenever possible, and proudly share photos of them to anyone available.
The emptiness left behind by his absence is immense. His family who he shouldered, his vast circle of friends, and the thriving Lao community are all the lesser with this loss. We honor the life and spirit of Vilay Chaleunrath. His impact and contributions are unmeasurable. We all miss him greatly and will continue to uphold his values of caring for your family, supporting your community, and never passing up an opportunity to share joy.
Vilay Chaleunrath is survived by wife Chanhmaly, sons Charles, Christopher and Will; daughters Judy, Jennifer, and Ana-Maria; Grandchildren Aubrey, Levi, and Cruz; siblings Bouangeune, Khamsing and Bouaphanh Chaleunrath.
Memorial Website can be found here:
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