Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A life well lived, William Chin-Lee (1923 - 2016)

Eulogy for my father, William Chin-Lee

William Chin-Lee

Dec. 3, 2016 at the Chinese Community Church, 500 I St., NW, Washington, DC.

William Chin as a baby, 1923, Washington, DC

Compared to my dad, I feel like an underachieving slouch. My friends tell me I should not feel this way. So I will put it more positively. I hope I have inherited a small fraction of my dad's talents! If you read his biography or you knew him well, you know he was an accomplished medical doctor and both a community and political leader. He was also a loving husband and father and a gentle Christian.

I'm Cynthia Chin-Lee, his youngest child, a manager at a high-tech company in California and a children's book author. My husband Peter Ching was unable to make the trip due to his health. I'd like to share some things you might know about him and how he has inspired me.
With church friends. Dad is on the far right.

Birth and Childhood

My dad was born in 1923 as William Chin with several older brothers and a sister and was then followed by many more brothers and two sisters, including Robert and Sherman Chin, Mary Lee and Elizabeth Wong, who are here today.
As a young man
My father's parents, Sing Yat Lee and Ngon Win Chin

My dad's parents Sing Yat and Ngon Win Chin immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s from Toishan county in Guangzhou province China. Though neither of his parents had much education, they were hard-working and smart and created a successful laundry in downtown DC. Along with his siblings, my dad worked in the laundry and at age 15 he had an accident when his left hand got stuck in a clamped ironing press. He got a skin graft from the skin around his stomach to his injured left hand, leaving a long horizontal scar across his stomach. To me as a child, he looked like he had a big smile on his tummy.


You're in the army now
Practicing medicine in Chinatown, DC

Despite the accident, he carried on, graduating from Western High School (now Duke Ellington High School of the Arts) and was admitted to American University where he was on scholarship. For part of his scholarship, he worked in the laundry for the Athletics Dept, the same one in which participated as a football player. At American University, he rushed for a fraternity and was accepted until one brother broke the news that he couldn't be a member because he wasn't white. Later my mother told me that he met this same fraternity brother who sold suits at Sears. My dad bought a suit from him, making sure to tell the brother that he was now a physician.

When my dad was in college, World War II was in full swing and he enlisted in the Army. He spent only two years at American University because he was fast-tracked to George Washington University Medical School because of the high demand for medical doctors for the war. He graduated from Medical School in 1948, the same year that he married our mom, Nancy Wong.
William and Nancy
Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Marriage and Family

Top: Blake, Warren Christopher, William (BJ), Zach, Doug
Bottom: Dad, Vanessa, Brittany, Mom

My parents were married for over 60 years until my mom's death 3 years ago. They had a traditional marriage where he supported the family through his career and she took care of the home front. They raised 5 children:
  • Bruce, a retired medical doctor, in San Diego, California. Married to Devin.
  • My sister Sandra Hays, a retired admin, of Vancouver, WA. Married to Philip.
  • My brother, Peter, a retired engineer, of Silver Spring, married to Eleanor.
  • Our brother Warren passed away several years ago, but my sister-in-law Deede of Washington DC survives him and my nephews Warren Christopher, an Army ranger of Georgia, married to Crystal and Douglass, of DC, a localization manager, are here.

Bruce, Dad, Sandra, Mom, Warren, Cynthia (me), Peter

Mom, Cynthia (me), Peter Ching, Dad, my mother-in-law Wanda, Ron Ching


My dad inspired me because he said YES to the many opportunities that came his way. He ran a thriving medical practice in DC Chinatown, a community that he loved; he helped run the family real estate business; he became medical director of the DC Police and Fire Clinic; and he was chosen the Republican candidate for Washington DC's member of Congress after quite a heated campaign, including a second run-off vote. Despite all the successes, he had his share of failures.

He lost his bid for Congress to the Democratic incumbent Walter Fauntroy. He was never able to realize his long-held dream for a Far East Development Center in Chinatown, a shopping and commercial building over the Chinatown metro stop. He also failed to revive the Diplomat National Bank, a bank created to cater to Asian American clients, when he became Chairman after a scandal that the former chairman Charles Kim was involved with South Korean interests.
Dad's campaign brochure, 1972, for non-voting delegate to Congress

For all the successes, he had disappointments, too. My dad inspired me because he was resilient. Life was not a straight shot, but it zigzagged with some successes and some setbacks. Despite the setbacks, my dad consistently said YES to the chances he was given.

Another milestone in our lives was when my father and mother changed our last name from “Chin” to “Chin-Lee” in the 1960s. This was at the request of my grandfather Sing Yat, who had come to the US with the paper name “Chin.” For those of you not familiar with immigration history, in 1882 the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion act, which was called one of the “most significant restrictions to free immigration in US history.” That law prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for 60 years. To get around that racially-motivated law, my grandfather bought the paper name of a Mr. Chin and entered the country as said Mr. Chin, later bringing over my grandmother as Mrs. Chin. They lived their lives in the US, another 6 to 8 decades as the Chins. Having been born in the US, my father was automatically a US citizen as were all of us his children. My parents legally filed papers to become Chin-Lee, preserving our paper name and our true clan name for posterity.

Top: Doug, Zach, Kailyn, Peter Chin-Lee, Alex, Blake, Brittany, William (BJ), Michelle, Peter Hays
Bottom: Warren Christopher with Kai, Logan, Dad

A Family Man

My father inspired me because he was a family man who cared a great deal for extended family. A gentle soul, he loved playing with his grandkids. He particularly loved babies and I remember how he willingly took care of both my children, Vanessa and Joshua, when they were babies, rocking them and cuddling them and giving them a bottle. He was not shy about bribing them either, often carrying lollipops in his shirt pocket.
Dad, Vanessa holding Joshua, Mom

In his last years, my sister-in-law Eleanor and my brother Peter in Silver Spring remodeled their family room as a bedroom for him. He liked to watch the squirrels outside on their deck finding the nuts that my brother Peter would leave for them.
Aunt Liz, Dad, Aunt Mary
I'd like to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy lives to remember my father. You are also invited to the other events that my brother Bruce will announce.

Before I end, I'd like to recognize my sister-in-law and brother, Eleanor and Peter especially. They have been the major caregivers for both my mother and father in these last few years. While all of my extended family have contributed to their care, Eleanor and Peter have borne the lion's share of work, scheduling his fantastic caregivers, like Irene Mandu and Namukale Simyembe; paying bills, filing their taxes, engaging with hospice and medical doctors and dentists and lawyers. Thank you, El and Peter, for your tender loving care of Mom and Dad. May we learn from the your caring example.

Finally, thanks, Dad, for the example of your life.
Cynthia (me), Dad, Vanessa

William Chin-Lee Biography

William Chin-Lee (April 22, 1923 – November 12, 2016), the son of the late Sing Yat Lee and Lee Ngon Win Chin, was born and raised in Washington, DC. He was the oldest child of his mother and had many brothers and sisters. His brothers, Victor Lee, Henry Chin, Bill Q. Hong, James Chin, Carl Chin, and Edmund Chin, passed away before him. He is survived by siblings Robert Chin (Helen Wong), Sherman Chin (Donna Matula), Mary Lee (the late Fatt M. Lee), and Elizabeth Wong (Thomas Wong).

He grew up in a neighborhood not far from the White House, swam in the Potomac and went fishing in the tidal basin. He worked in the family laundry. William attended church at the Chinese Community Church in Washington, D.C., and attended Bible study regularly.

During World War II, William studied at American University and while a sophomore in college he joined the Army. He served in the Army and was admitted to George Washington University Medical School after sophomore year in college because of the high demand for medical doctors. He graduated from George Washington University Medical School in 1948, the same year that he married the late Nancy Wong at the Church of the Epiphany. William also served in the US Air Force during the Korean War in upstate New York.

William and Nancy raised five children; William Bruce, M.D. (Devin Hom), Sandra Louise (Philip Hays), Warren Douglass (survived by Deede Chan), Peter Edward (Eleanor Lee) and Cynthia Denise (Peter Ching). With Nancy managing the domestic front, William started a successful internal medicine practice in DC Chinatown. They also loved babysitting and visiting with their 12 grandchildren: Warren Christopher (Crystal Walton); Zachary Hays, Ph.D. (Rachael Rogers); Will; Peter Hays; Blake, M.D. (Gina Nam); Douglass; Brittany (Alex Skinner); Vanessa Pan; Alexandra (Byron Ballard-Lyles); Michael; Michelle; and Joshua Ching. William was blessed by three great- grandchildren: Logan and Kai Chin-Lee and Kailyn Hays.

In addition to his private practice, William served at the DC Police and Fire Clinic for 20 years, retiring as chief medical director. He held many leadership positions in the community, including:
  • President of the Chinese Benevolent Association
  • President of Chi-Am Lion's Club
  • President of the Lee Family Credit Union
  • Federal City College Board member
  • Member of the Urban League
  • Executive Council of the National Chinese Welfare Council member
  • Advisory Co-Chair of the Chinese Culture and Education Center
  • Chairman of the YMCA Camp Lichtman Board
  • Education Committee of the National Republican Heritage Groups Council member
  • Trustee of the Chinese Community Church

Active in politics as well, he won the Republican nomination for non-voting delegate to Congress in 1972, but lost to the Democratic candidate.

He helped many other initiatives, including the founding of Diplomat National Bank, the Wah Luck House senior housing development, the Organization of Chinese Americans, and several other projects, including helping to manage the family real estate business, Chin, Inc., which later acquired the Best Western Downtown Hotel.