Monday, June 18, 2012

Legend in her own Lifetime : Family History 1

Background:  Jim, my husband and I  have just returned from a 6 week  holiday to visit family and friends in England, Germany, Finland and Hong Kong.  I have enough material for my blog for the rest of the year, but I have decided to start with a few weeks of  family history. While great contacts were made re: the Simmons/Jones family in England, I have decided to start this blog series "Family History" with a profile of Lily Lee. 
I met Lily Lee for the first time in Hong Kong, last Friday 15 June 2012. Why did we make contact? Aunty Lily's father, Philip Lee Chun sponsored my grandfather, Thomas Lee Fong to live in Australia, adopted him as a son, and  ensured he was educated in Sydney at Newington College.

Lily was born in Sydney in 1910 and that makes her a "young" 101, and 102 next October.  She was the third youngest of eight children, three girls and five boys ( excluding my grandfather).   Aunty Lily moved  to Hong Kong in 1933 with her parents returned to Hong Kong for a retirement holiday trip. They liked it so much they stayed on. When Lily left Sydney she was studying accountancy but never returned to complete her course.She began working in Hong Kong  for Mobil Oil and rose to become Executive Secretary. Mobil Oil built the first large housing complex in Hong Kong - Mei Foo Sun Chuen. Lily was recalled from retirement to be the personal assistant to the executives in charge of the complex. One of her two barrister brothers was Professor of English at the Hong Kong Chinese University in Shatin when it was first opened. One other practised in Sydney. Another brother, an accountant, took over the family import/export firm in Sydney which operated from their own large three storey building in Haymarket, Sydney 
    Lily was in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation in the 1940's. To most of us this would be difficult to comprehend but Lily spent her time working for the Red Cross and knitting for a living."We just got on with it," she said.  After the war Lily returned to Australia for a while via an aircraft carrier, which she says, was a lot of fun, although it took 12 days to get there! Over the years, Lily worked tirelessly for the Australian Association In Hong Kong as their secretary for a time and remained active with the social events after she handed over her official'duties'. In addition to the activities of the Association, Lily has been a lifelong fan of horse racing -
although she is reluctant to share the secrets of her success in the betting ring! (This information comes from Fifty Years of Memories, Australian Association in Hong Kong, of which Lily is a founding member and honorary life member.) 
The first thing that struck me when I met Aunty Lily in her room at an English Speaking Aged Care Centre in Kowloon was  that she certainly looked much younger and healthier than I had imagined  - beautifully groomed, dignified and elegant. She has never lost her Australian accent (Aunty Lily used to travel and stay in Sydney to visit relatives in Sydney for a couple of months every year until 2009). Using a print out of one of our email messages as her reference,  she proceeded to answer our questions confidently and clearly as we sought more information about my grandfather. Aunty Lily very proudly showed us messages from the Queen and the Governor General on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2010 and remarked at how beautiful Quentin Bryce is, adding that she had met her on the Governor General's recent visit to Hong Kong. Around the room were photographs of the famous charity sedan chair race in Hong Kong - Aunty Lily was the passenger in a winning team from the Australian Association! It is clear that Lily Lee is still mentally very very sharp,  in spite of a recent addition of a hearing aid  which she is still adjusting . With a wry smile, Aunty Lily admitted that she still  follows the races with enthusiasm and trades in stocks and shares.
Aunty Lily is known to enjoy taking out friends and family to lunch, and this was no exception. Chrys, her great niece, drove us all to Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant in Kowloon where Aunty Lily encouraged us all to eat well , and then cheerfully paid the bill after checking the addition!  She expressed concern about us getting to the airport, and having assured her we had plenty of time, we chatted for a little while longer before farewelling happily, and going off in different directions. Lily Lee is a remarkably inspirational quiet yet strong  woman, and has made a  very positive and  memorable impression on me.  

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story your aunty is amazing she must also be very serene to have lived so long in good health.


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