Elsie Tu

Elsie Tu, veteran Hong Kong politician and champion of the underprivileged, dies at 102

Former Urban Councillor who moved to the city in 1951 from England never wavered in speaking her mind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 11:07am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2015, 9:06am

Elsie Tu, a veteran politician who spent her life fighting for the underprivileged in Hong Kong, died this morning at the age of 102 from pneumonia-related complications.

Tu, a former Urban Councillor and lawmaker regarded as a pro-Beijing figure, was well-known for her outspoken manner. The centenarian still actively turned in articles to newspapers to criticise government policies she deemed unfair or inadequate.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England in 1913, Tu and her then husband William Elliot moved to Hong Kong on missionary work in 1951. Not long after, Tu quit the church, and her marriage to Elliot ended.

Mu Kuang English School in Kwun Tong, founded by Tu and her late husband in 1954, said it was saddened by her death and called her the “real spirit of Hong Kong”. The school will organise Tu’s funeral. The Elsie Tu Education Fund’s ceremony this Saturday to present award to students with good academic progress will go ahead as plannned in order to honor Tu’s wish, the school said.

Turning a brand new page of her life, she met the late Andrew Tu Hsueh-kwei. The pair co-founded Mu Kuang English School in 1954.

Theirs was a long-blossoming relationship. It was not until 1985 that their friendship led to marriage – 30 years after the two teachers met. She was 71, her husband 63.

“Mr Tu was very outspoken … he taught me a lot of things to make me better understand Chinese ways,” she said.

Remembering her late father’s teaching of helping those in need, Tu decided to delve into politics, in 1963.

Elsie Tu became a household name after she won election to Urban Council in 1963. It was a post she held until she lost to the city’s late democratic icon Szeto Wah.

In the 1970s, Tu decided to take on the city’s corruption.

Her consistent effort was one of the forces that drove the colonial government to set up an unprecedented department, the Independent Commission against Corruption, in 1974.

Tu was appointed as a HKSAR Basic Law Consultative Committee member in 1985 before the city’s handover.

But in the eyes of pan-democrats, Tu, regardless of her nationality, she was more like a Beijing-loyalist, especially as her political stance tended to follow the mainland government’s.

In 2007, she publicly supported former security chief and the now New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in running against former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang in the Legislative Council by-election, a high-profile battle pitting a pro-establishment figure against a pan-democratic icon.

In a statement issued this morning, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he was saddened by Tu’s death.

“Dr Elsie Tu had a passion for Hong Kong her entire life. She made tremendous contributions in taking forward reforms and developments in various aspects of society.” Leung said.

The city’s top official added: “She adhered to reasoning while respecting the views of the majority. Her noble character earned her wide respect from the community and she was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 1997.”

Leung expressed his deepest sympathies regarding Tu’s passing on behalf of the government.

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Dr Judith Mackay, a friend of 40 years, said Tu had been in remarkably good health with no underlying illness. But she said Tu began to have health problems last year and that her condition deteriorated two months ago.

“She died of pneumonia, which is very common among elderly people,” said Mackay. “She went very peacefully.”

Tu remained active in the city’s political and social life well until the end and bristled at talk of retirement.

“Retirement? I don’t know what it is,” she said in 2006, at the age of 93. “What should I do if I retired? Is it just sitting here and doing nothing? No way.”

“Sometimes I feel like I have been living too long,” she added. “But as long as I am alive, I will speak up for the poor.”