Sheltering stars and royals: Hong Kong's 'Umbrella Man' dies at 87

From his modest stall, Ho Hung-hee helped celebrities stay dry for decades

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 July, 2015, 4:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 July, 2015, 4:39am

A fixture of the Central street scene dubbed the "Umbrella Man" for the decades he spent helping Hongkongers stay dry has died at the age of 87.

Ho Hung-hee set up his umbrella repair stand on Peel Street in 1947 and worked there until his retirement at the end of last year. He passed away peacefully in hospital on Monday.

While his stall was modest, Ho's work became famous, making it into the record books and the hearts of celebrities - including the British royal family. Newspaper stories on his exploits covered the walls of the stall.

A funeral procession will be held at Po Fook Memorial Hall in Sha Tin at the end of next month, Chinese-language media reported. He had been admitted to hospital frequently in recent years. According to reports, none of his nine sons plans to continue the business. One son, Ho Kwok-sing, said his father had asked him to donate all the 100-plus umbrellas at the shop.

Originally from Guangzhou, Ho learned his trade from his brother-in-law who had an umbrella factory across the border.

In 1994, he made it into Guinness World Records for his most expensive umbrella, made from American ox skin and featuring a 100-year-old German frame Ho found on a building site in 1982. He sold it to an Englishman for £167, about HK$2,370 at the time.

His umbrellas were popular among celebrities, including the mother of Britain's Queen Elizabeth. The umbrellas he made for the royal family are showcased at Britain's Windsor Castle museum, Chinese-language media reported.

Among those with fond memories of Ho is John Batten, who ran an art gallery opposite Ho's stall from 1996 to 2006.

"On his birthday Mr Ho would buy bottles of Coke, Fanta, cream soda, and put them on a chair near his stall and invite passers-by to have a drink to celebrate," Batten recalled.

In 2010, Ho shared with the Post his views on everything from reclamation to recycling.

"I really enjoyed the beautiful harbour view on Peel Street. Even though commercial buildings now block the view, I'm not in despair - life goes on," he said.

"I'm very conscious about recycling useful materials. I still use parts from old umbrellas to make new ones and during repairs.

"Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang helped me a lot. She allowed me to keep my stall on Peel Street when everyone else had to move down to Queen's Road during construction work in the early 80s."

Batten said the street was once a vibrant area but has been ruined by rising rents and regular roadworks, as many utilities for Mid-Levels ran through it.

"It affected that street all the time and was bad for everyone - noise level was high and foot traffic was affected," Batten said. "Poor umbrella man - he endured all that."