From bus conductor to lawmaker: First grass-roots councillor Wong Lam dies at age 96

Wong served in the Legislative Council from 1976 to 1985 and was the first to give a speech in Cantonese; he decried today’s Legco antics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 8:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 8:24pm

Hong Kong’s first grass-roots legislator has passed away at the age of 96.

Wong Lam, a Kowloon Motor Bus conductor turned lawmaker, died on March 19th.

He was an unofficial member of the Legislative Council between 1976 and 1985 at a time when the legislature was dominated by ­colonial and local elites.

Aside from being the first lawmaker to come from a grass-roots background, Wong was also the first to make speeches in Cantonese in the legislature.

Born in 1919 in Hong Kong, Wong joined Kowloon Motor Bus in 1937. He moved through the ranks from conductor to public relations manager.

Wong became known to colonial officials in 1966 when his company put him in charge of opening new bus routes in Kwun Tong, as he had to liaise with various government departments including the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs and the Social Welfare Department.

After he retired, Wong was appointed by governor Murray MacLehose to the Legislative Council.

Wong initially tried to turn down the appointment, citing his inability to speak English and lack of funds as reasons.

In order to ensure he would take up the post, Wong was allowed to speak in Cantonese in Legco. The legislature also introduced a remuneration system for lawmakers for the first time.

During his nine years in the legislature, Wong advocated grass-root and workers’ interests.

His last public appearance was in December last year when he met with incumbent lawmakers in the Legco complex.

When asked how his time in the legislature compared with the present, Wong told the Post in 2014 that he found it very bizarre to see bananas flying in the chamber.

“We were very neat, tidy and polite back in the time, unlike the lawmakers these days who try to dress strangely and hurl objects to catch attention,” he said.