More than 1,000 Hong Kong officials, friends and family members pay final respects to Nobel laureate Charles Kao, the father of fibre optics

Rows of white wreaths line the hall at Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point, as tributes are paid to a man who ‘forever changed the course of human history’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 11:24pm

The late Professor Charles Kao Kuen was a physics Nobel laureate and visionary scientist but to Polly Kwong, who teaches art to dementia patients, he was also a gifted artist who used “rich colours”.

Kwong taught drawing to Kao for five years, during the course of his 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The scientist died on September 23 aged 84.

“He picked up drawing very quickly,” Kwong recalled.

“At first, he did not even know how to hold the brush. But he quickly developed an interest in drawing and his favourite subject was animals. He also liked to use rich colours. Maybe it was just a gift he never had time to practise before,” she mused.

Hong Kong mourns passing of Nobel Prize winner and father of fibre optics, Charles Kao, 84

Kwong was among the more than 1,000 friends, guests, and mourners who streamed into the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point on Sunday to pay their last respects to the late “father of fibre optics”.

Rows of wreaths with white flowers from central government organisations and members of the city’s education and political elite lined the hall, which was decorated in white and light yellow.

A portrait of Professor Kao was placed at an altar and above it a large banner read: “Rivers never stop flowing”. Couplets were also placed on both sides of the altar, praising Professor Kao’s contributions to modern communications.

We owe to Professor Kao the convenience, efficiency and free flow of knowledge we enjoy today

In the memorial booklet distributed to guests attending the wake, it hailed Professor Kao as having “forever changed the course of human history”.

“We owe to Professor Kao the convenience, efficiency and free flow of knowledge we enjoy today,” the eulogy read.

“The loss of a great mind and a great human being is deeply felt by all inside and outside the scientific and the academic communities.”

Known for his groundbreaking achievements involving the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication, Kao won a joint Nobel Prize in physics in 2009, the Faraday Medal in 1989, and the Alexander Graham Bell Medal in 1985.

He also contributed extensively to Hong Kong’s higher education sector, serving both as a researcher and the third vice-chancellor of Chinese University. He was an adviser to the Beijing government on the handover of Hong Kong from British rule.

Charles Kao a true inspiration for Hong Kong

He earned huge respect from various sectors of society, evident in the long list of powerful people and organisations that had sent wreaths.

These included the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s former chief executives and now vice-chairmen of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying, also sent wreaths, as well as the incumbent chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Sunday’s public wake from 3pm to 5pm was also attended by Chinese University’s president and vice chancellor Rocky Tuan Sung-chi and CUHK’s former vice chancellors Joseph Sung Jao-yiu and Professor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee; former University of Hong Kong vice chancellor Tsui Lap-chee and Open University president Wong Yuk-shan.

Leung, former Executive Council member Rosanna Wong Yick-ming and senior officials in the current administration, including Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, also attended the wake.

Winnie So, a CUHK graduate who came to the wake, said: “I didn’t know Professor Kao personally. He had retired long ago before I entered the university. But I feel compelled to come to pay my respects and say a final goodbye to such a great educator and scientist.”

Kao’s wife of 60 years, Gwen Kao Wong May-wan, thanked those who came, saying she was “grateful and appreciative” for the care and concern the family had received.

She said she would carry out Kao’s last wishes by improving support for people with Alzheimer’s through the Charles K Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease, which the couple jointly founded in 2010.

The funeral takes place on Monday morning.