IN many ways, the life of Chan Kee-hwa is a typical Hong Kong story - a poor mainland youth who made a fortune through determination and hard work. 'He was sometimes so hungry that he had to eat tree bark and roots,' one of his five sons said of his early years. When he passed away on May 11, aged 88, Chan's name was linked to several listed Hong Kong and Taiwan companies he played central roles in establishing, as well as a handful of private firms. He was also connected with many charitable organisations. High-profile attendance at his funeral service last week was testimony to the respect Chan held in the business community. The most prestigious guest was Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa. Hong Kong's richest tycoons were among the pall bearers, including Li Ka-shing, Cheng Yu-tung and Sir Quo-wei Lee. Among others who attended were Airport Authority chairman Wong Po-yan, representatives from Xinhua (the New China News Agency) and, on the other side of the political straits, senior reunification negotiator for Taiwan, Koo Chen-fu. Chan had friends on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, who will remember him as a true patriot. He was fond of saying: 'No matter what passport you hold, or what nationality you believe you are, you are still Chinese.' Other guests included Sir Run Run Shaw, Anson Chan's mother Fang Zhao-ling, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, and Philip Tose and Francis Leung Pak-to from Peregrine Investments. According to Huey Tai International's 1996 annual report, Chan had been 'a director of the company since January 1990 and also founder of the company. He has more than 50 years experience in the construction, property, investment and development industry'. He was managing director of Taiwan Glass Industry Corporation and the Ambassador Hotel, in Taipei, both listed companies in Taiwan, as well as managing director of United World Chinese Commercial Bank and chairman of Fairyoung Holdings, another locally-listed company. The second of three brothers, Chan was considered a bright child. His father died when he was nine and his family was unable to support him through high school. Penniless, he and an older brother set off for foreign fields. In his mid-20s, he went alone to Burma. There are many gaps in his early life which probably are lost forever, but what is known is that while in Burma he worked hard and established the Hsing Hwa Department Store and became involved in the rice export business. When World War II broke out, Chan returned to China, to the city of Chongqing, to help in any way he could. Declining requests to become involved politically, he set up a pharmaceuticals laboratory which he later donated to the Chinese government. The lab is still in operation. Maintaining a drive for humanitarian causes, in 1942 he accompanied the late Yim Jiakan, then financial secretary, on a trip to inspect the living conditions of people in Fujian. Finding life there was hard, he proposed and succeeded in cancelling personal taxes. By 1945, Chan's hard work started to pay off and his businesses expanded across Southeast Asia. Details of developments over the following three decades are sketchy, but the strides he took must have been amazing. In 1946, he returned to Rangoon where he built a cigarette plant to produce what became the most popular brand in the country. During the 1950s and 1960s, besides keeping up his established businesses, he co-founded the Hong Kong Chinese Bank with veteran bankers Sir Quo-wei Lee and the late Sir Chau Sik-nin. He also went on to kick-start a string of other companies in the territory; the Huey An Co, Huey Tai Co, Hai An Shipping Co, Hong Kong Paper Mills Co, and Fairyoung Holdings, involving himself in a range of businesses that if combined, might have been a sizeable conglomerate today. Huey Tai also took a substantial stake in Asean Resources in recent years. In Taiwan, he invested in the United World Chinese Commercial Bank and the Ambassador Hotel. In Singapore, he became involved in Kian Sin Co and Kian Seng Co. Throughout his life, he continued to benefit his home town. Chan passed away quietly after suffering from respiratory problems for the past year. He is survived by two wives, seven children and seven grandchildren. His sons still have a strong presence on the boards of the listed companies.