Elsie Tu

The secrets to the strength of Elsie Tu

Soon-to-turn 100, the woman who told off the billionaire looks back on her life and love

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 4:52am

Working out regularly from a young age is the secret of longevity for former urban councillor Elsie Tu, who is allowed to take it rather more easily now as she approaches her 100th birthday.

On June 2, Tu will become a centenarian and now needs a walker to move around the home and a wheelchair when she heads out. But her mind remains active and engaged - as her defence of the striking dockers demonstrates.

"Exercising has kept me healthy," she said "I've been very active in my life. I was a member of all the school teams like hockey, netball … I spent a lot of time on physical education," she said.

After moving to Hong Kong from Britain, Tu set up Mu Kuang English School in 1954, where she often gave exercise classes to the students.

"I never smoke … I never drink - I think that must be good for your health - physical exercise and never eat until you feel full," she added.

Tu said her late Chinese husband was the biggest influence on her and taught her to be kind and strong.

As she says it, she glances at the oil painting of Andrew Tu Hsueh-kwei which hangs in the sitting room of her home on the top floor of a wing of Mu Kuang English School. The couple co-founded the secondary school in 1954 and it moved to its current site in Kwun Tong in 1972.

"He was a very kind person. People used to send us clothing to give to the poor … He would wear one shirt for years even after it was torn. He gave the rest away," Tu said.

Andrew, from Inner Mongolia, joined the same church that Elsie and her then-husband William Elliott belonged to back in the '50s. The couple had moved to Hong Kong in 1951 after three years of missionary work across the border.

"I gave him the name Andrew because Andrew was the apostle who helped the people. He was the one who influenced me after we came to Hong Kong."

Tu added: "Mr Tu was very outspoken … he taught me a lot of things to make me understand better the Chinese ways," she said. "And when he went to England, I told him how to understand the English ways."

Tu and Andrew, along with their church, set up the one-classroom school in 1954 by putting up an army tent in what was then known as Kai Tak New Village, in a street called Rifle Range Road.

Tu taught English subjects while Andrew taught Chinese ones.

A year later, they had two classrooms erected on the same spot thanks to a donation from someone in Canada, of whom they had never heard.

That meant they could register the school with the Education Department. Tu became a school supervisor and teacher and Andrew, who died of cancer in 2001, the principal.

Tu returned to England with William in late 1955 but came back alone the following summer to defend her school from other church members who had occupied it with the intention of opening a kindergarten.

"They were violent. They tried to push me out of the school. I had bruises all over my back and all down my legs … They bumped me with chairs, just trying to get me out," she said.

"Mr Tu was there. They picked him up and threw him out."

The couple called the police and the church members never returned.

It helped, too, that the Education Department was also on the couple's side.

Tu said building up the school over the years had been her greatest ambition. "I've been happy most of my life really. Because every time we opened a new building, I was happy.

"The happiest one was when Mr Tu and I stood on the balcony of this building, and we could see … on one side, there was the hall; on the other side, we had laboratories. [I was happy] to see the school with everything ready."


Elsie Tu

June 2, 1913 Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England

1945 Married William Elliott

1948 Arrived in China for missionary work with Elliott

1951 Moved to Hong Kong with Elliott

1954 Founded Mu Kuang English School

1963-95 Elected member of the Urban Council

1981-1986 Member of the Kwun Tong District Board

1985 Wed Andrew Tu Hsueh-kwei

1986-1989 Vice-chair of the Urban Council

1985-1990 Member of the HKSAR Basic Law Consultative Committee

1988-1995 Member of the Legislative Council

1991-1995 House Committee chair of the Legislative Council

1995 Lost to Democrat Szeto Wah in Urban Council and Legco polls

1994-1997 Hong Kong Affairs Adviser to the People's Republic of China

1996 Member of the HKSAR First Chief Executive Selection Committee

1997-1998 Member of the Provisional Legislative Council