Longtime Atlanta resident dies while visiting Cambodia for charity

He spent much of his life as a patient, recovering from countless surgeries that weakened him physically. But Christopher Brett Wolf was a healer to others.

Always smiling, the 32-year-old was compassionate and gentle despite what life had handed him, his mother said. In recent days while on a trip to one of the world’s poorest countries, Wolf had an epiphany. He didn’t want this trip to Cambodia to be his last. Sadly, his body had other plans.

“He was an old soul, and his body wore out on him,” Cammie Rice, Wolf’s mother, said Friday.

Just days after arriving in Cambodia, Wolf died after a short illness. Early Feb. 26, Rice found her son on the bathroom floor of the hotel room they shared. Wolf was unable to be revived.

Wolf’s health problems began when he was 13 and growing up in Suwanee. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, he would have his colon removed during his senior year at Collins Hill High School, Rice said. He missed 75 days of school that year and was too sick to attend his graduation.

After high school, Wolf earned a degree in finance at Augusta State University. But working a corporate business job wasn’t what he was called to do, he told his family. Wolf was currently working on master’s degree in social work at the University of Central Florida.

Though he was born in Indiana, Atlanta was still home base for Wolf’s family, even when his mother and step-father moved five years ago to Hong Kong, where John Rice runs global operations as vice chairman of GE. The move across the world allowed Cammie Rice a better opportunity to focus her time on those in Cambodia who needed her the most: the children.

In the capital city of Phnom Penh, the Rice family opened the Rice Academy for 200 impoverished children. Wolf sponsored one of the students at the school, Dada, and had hoped to meet the boy on his trip. First, Wolf traveled to Hong Kong to spend time with his mother.

After arriving on Valentine’s Day, Wolf and Rice hit the town, going shopping, getting massages, seeing a movie.

“We had the best time,” Rice said.

At a horse race, Wolf bet on an unlikely winner, then cashed in when his horse won. He shared his excitement on Facebook with one sentence. “My luck is changing.”

On Feb. 22, Wolf and his mom arrived in Cambodia, Wolf already knew what he wanted to see a temple first. It was Meak Bochea, a religious holiday on which Buddhists are reminded of Buddha and his teachings. A goal of the day is to purify one’s mind and not commit sins.

“He kneeled down and started praying,” Rice said.

Surrounded by about 50 monks wearing white, it wasn’t hard to pick Wolf out. He was wearing a shirt in his favorite color, purple. For two hours, Wolf prayed at the temple.

The following day, Wolf and Rice visited Rice Academy, but his sponsor child was home due to illness. Rice’s 19-year-old niece, who is currently working with the school’s youngest children, wanted Wolf to meet a small girl in her care. But she warned Wolf the toddler usually shied away from men.

“She reached out to him,” Rice said.

The photo of Wolf in a camouflage T-shirt with both arms around the dark-haired girl with a shy expression would be the last one of him alive.

Wolf and Rice, while in Cambodia, spent time with two doctors from Emory University, who planned to return in May with students for eight weeks. When the doctors asked whether Wolf wanted to join the group, he immediately said yes.

“I want to work on the Emory team this summer, and then go back to Emory and get a Ph.d.,” Wolf told his mother.

When a sudden illness forced her son to stay in the hotel room one day, Rice worried Wolf may have gotten food poisoning. She gave him fluids and encouraged him to rest. Early the next morning, Rice awoke to find Wolf’s bed hadn’t been slept in. She found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor.

“He was gone. He was gone,” Rice said. “It was his time.”

Wolf’s death shocked not only his family, but also those he’d just met through the Rice Academy. A service was held there before Wolf was flown first to Seoul, South Korea, and from there, back to Atlanta, where a funeral was held Saturday at H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home on Spring Street.

In addition to his mother and stepfather, Wolf is survived by his father, Donald David Browning, a brother, Chase, stepbrothers Tanner and Steve Rice, and numerous other relatives. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be sent in Wolf’s memory to: The Cambodian Children’s Fund, 2461 Santa Monica Blvd., PMB 833, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Rice hopes to build a health clinic in Wolf’s name, helping fulfill his desire to help others.

“I definitely feel his presence with me,” Rice said. “I know for a fact that he’s no longer in pain or suffering.”