Obituary Reports the death of an individual, providing an account of the person’s life including their achievements, any controversies in which they were involved, and reminiscences by people who knew them.
With great sadness, we share the passing of Choy Lee on Nov. 26 at the age of 95.
She was born Choy Woon Wong in Luk On Village in Toishan, Kwangtung, China on Aug. 27, 1928. She was the youngest of three children with an elder brother and sister, now both deceased.
From all accounts, her father, Yan Wong, was a gentle, soft-spoken man who never uttered a harsh word to his wife, June Lee, nor to their children. Believing that their youngest daughter, Choy, would have a better life in America, they arranged for her to marry Quan Mee Wong, a widower with seven children, who had a modest storefront in New Jersey. He was 44; she was 23.
They married on Oct. 17, 1950, in the registrar’s office at Victoria in Hong Kong. Quan Mee Wong later changed their surname to Lee. Unable to bring his young wife back to the U.S. due to complications obtaining a Chinese passport, Quan Mee Wong returned to his family in the states that December, leaving Choy behind.
Her journey to this country would be harrowing and frightening, aboard a ship far too long, enduring sea sickness and traveling alone unable to speak any language other than Chinese. Upon finally docking in San Francisco, she was then held in a woman’s detention center for several months. It wasn’t until March 1951 that Choy would be admitted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service and allowed to come to New York, and ultimately New Jersey, which would become her home.
She was 23, in a foreign land, with a husband she barely knew and a ready-made family of seven children in need of a mother. So it was for Choy Lee. This sweet, young woman learned to be a mother and a wife quickly. In July 1951, she gave birth to her first child and four more after. In total, she was a mother to 12 children, raising the first 11 on a small working farm in New Jersey.
Choy learned enough English to get by, and with great pride became a naturalized U.S. citizen. At 5-foot-6, she was the original DIY handyman. There was nothing she wouldn’t tackle (with a little assist from her kids), from paving a driveway to putting up a new roof, that was Paw Paw (grandma in Cantonese) as she was affectionately called by family and friends.
Always industrious and hardworking, she ran her own laundry for several years and later took a job in a local Chinese restaurant to earn money of her own. She found happiness in the simplest of things and loved gardening, having a natural green thumb. Paw Paw was everyone’s favorite cook, able to whip up amazing “marathon” meals with meager means.
She persevered with strength and resiliency, raising her children to possess these qualities. Undaunted, Paw Paw’s beautiful smile never faded. Her humor lifted spirits; she was selfless to a fault. She was a truly amazing woman.
Choy Lee is survived by seven children, 16 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by five children and one grandchild.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states, “If you always give, you will always have.” Choy gave with all her heart and we, in turn, will always have her with us. We will miss her dearly, and will continue to carry on her legacy of love and kindness.
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