Elsie Tu, a generous friend who set the best of examples

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 10:31am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 10:30am

Last month, a good friend from Hong Kong informed me of the death of Mrs Elsie Tu.

An attorney and friend Gwan Seung Yi first introduced me to Mrs Elsie Elliot in August 1970. He knew her from the time of his own entry into the then British colony in 1968.

Entering Hong Kong as a member of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, I asked Mr Gwan to put me in contact with someone who was truly associated with marginalised people “on the very bottom of Hong Kong society”. Mr Gwan took me on his motorcycle to the urban council ward office of Mrs Elliott in the Lok Fu village housing estate near Wong Tai Sin. Without fail, Mrs Elliott met over 100 people weekly from the area on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. She warmly welcomed me to assist in her small office by typing letters to government offices (usually housing or legal matters).

I was amazed to witness the sincere respect Hong Kong people had for a Mandarin-speaking former missionary in China. She originally settled near a large squatter area in Wong Tai Sin after leaving the mainland. Cab drivers refused to accept Elsie’s payment for their service. She was recognised and warmly greeted by people on the sidewalks of Hong Kong.

Occasionally those who called for assistance in her ward office needed more than letters. Some were even too weak for personal visits to her office. On numerous occasions, Elsie requested my assistance be extended to people who were absent. One elderly man dying of cancer was discharged from Queen Elizabeth hospital and brought back to his rooftop shack by friends. Mrs Elliott asked me to go to the wooden structure in Kowloon City and carry the rejected cancer patient back to Queen Elizabeth so he would not die in the painful lonely isolation of his cubicle.

By cab, the frail man and I rode to Queen Elizabeth at a time when there was a ratio of one hospital bed for over 20,000 people in the colony. Arriving at the hospital, I easily carried the dying man over my shoulder up to the floor and ward from where he had been discharged. Several nurses or doctors quickly asked in Cantonese: “What are you doing here?” but made no attempt to stop me from carrying the limp patient forward. When the weak man recognised the area where he had been a patient, I gently placed him on a vacant bed. By that time, a closing ring of hospital staff members became more uneasy. As their interrogation increased, I simply began to remove his unkempt street clothes and said, “Yip Sek Yan sent me to bring the man back here so he would not die in the agonising isolation of a rooftop shack”. At the mere mention of Elsie’s name, all medical personnel surrounding us quickly backed away as if I had raised a sword of flame in their presence. Elsie was quick to turn over information about life in Hong Kong to the South China Morning Post. Queen Elizabeth staff members did not wish to challenge one of Hong Kong’s most respected persons. Due to Elsie’s courage and sensitivity, the elderly man soon “passed” into another world, perhaps the locus of their spiritual meeting now.

My sadness over Elsie’s departure is alleviated by the Queen Elizabeth intervention among numerous other Good Samaritan occurrences which made her so loved by Hong Kong’s marginal people. To my dear friend Elsie Elliott, I have dedicated a haiku poem:

One faithful mentor / Thirty years older helped me / Navigate Hong Kong

Vic Hummert (Hohn Dak Mahn), Lafayatte, Louisiana, US