The patriarch of one of the city's leading business families, George Harilela, died in hospital yesterday afternoon following surgery earlier this week. Harilela, 86, who was an executive director of the family's trading and hotel businesses until his death, was the oldest member of the famous Indian family. He had gone to hospital for 'non-invasive surgery' early this week and died at noon yesterday, his family said. Nephew Aron Harilela said his uncle, who was head of trading operations, had remained mentally and physically active and had continued to work until 11/2 weeks ago. 'He was 86 and he had some issues with his health, but he passed away peacefully. He went to hospital a few days ago and there were some complications following surgery,' he said. His uncle's wife of 50 years, Chandra, and several other family members were at his bedside at the Sanatorium Hospital when he died, he said. In recent months, Harilela had used a wheelchair to remain mobile, but nonetheless went to work at his office most days. He was instrumental in keeping the large and extended Harilela family a tight-knit group over the years. Four generations continue to live under one roof at the family's 100,000 sq ft mansion in Kowloon Tong and many work in positions throughout the Harilela Group and its associated companies. The Harilela rags-to-riches story began in the 1920s when George's father, Naroomal Harilela, set up a trading company in Guangdong before moving to Hong Kong in the early 1930s. Born in Sindh, which is now part of Pakistan, in 1920, George Harilela, was the eldest of eight children, six brothers and two sisters. The family built up a tailoring business, catering to the military forces in Hong Kong, before expanding into the world of trading, hotels and hospitality. Aron Harilela, who is executive director of Harilela Hotels, said that for as long as anyone in the family could remember, his uncle had donated one-third of his salary to charity. 'He did this very surreptitiously and wanted to keep it quiet, but now we think it's time that people knew about this,' he said. Indian consul-general B.K. Gupta paid tribute to Harilela after visiting the family at the hospital yesterday. 'George Harilela was a man of exceptional qualities and a very successful one in his field of business. He was a wonderful human being. It's a very great tragedy, especially for the entire Indian community as well as for Hong Kong,' Mr Gupta said. Harilela's body was transferred to the family's Kowloon Tong compound yesterday. His body will be cremated at Cape Collinson Crematorium on Monday. Harilela is survived by his wife, seven children, 16 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, four brothers and a sister.