Sum Ying Fung Eng

January 27, 1989December 6, 2011
Obituary of Sum Ying Fung Eng
Sum Ying Fung (Eng) Sum Ying Fung (née Eng), the oldest living Canadian, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 6, 2011, a few weeks short of her 113th birthday. She was surrounded by family when she died in Burnaby General Hospital, where she had been admitted for treatment of pneumonia. Sum Ying was born in Wing On village in Guangdong, China, on January 27, 1899. She had an older brother Yee Park Eng, now deceased, and lived a full life that spanned three centuries. When Sum Ying was born, radio did not exist. It would be another four years before the Wright brothers' first flight, and almost a decade before the first Ford Model T. She grew up when feet-binding was popular in China, but fortunately refused to go through with the disfiguring process. In 1926, Sum Ying married Chong Lum Fung, who had immigrated to Canada as a child in 1911 to work before returning to China as a young adult to find a wife. From this and a second trip Chong Lum took back to China in 1931, the couple had three children: a daughter Suey Que, and two sons, Suey Wing, now deceased, and Suey Kee. When her husband returned to Canada for the final time in 1932, Sum Ying remained in China with the children, as Canadian immigration policy at that time did not allow Chinese to bring their families with them. It was not until 1954 that Sum Ying was able to immigrate to Canada along with their youngest son Suey Kee, and the family settled in Vancouver's Chinatown. Eventually, in the 1980s, Sum Ying's daughter Suey Que, and her eldest son's widow Yee Que, along with members of their families, would also be allowed to come to Canada. Sum Ying's husband worked in the lumber industry and passed away in 1967. By then, her son Suey Kee had married and had four young children, and she took care of the grandchildren while their parents worked. Little did Sum Ying know that one day she would be caring for her grandchildren's children. Sum Ying loved many activities, including knitting, playing mahjong, and even smoking the water pipe. She also enjoyed watching football and professional wrestling, both live and on T.V. Her greatest love, however, was vegetable gardening, and she maintained a healthy green thumb beyond her 100th birthday. She always encouraged her family to eat lots of vegetables, especially sweet potatoes. However, she also enjoyed salty foods - the saltier the better - and her meals would not be complete without a dish of salted fish. Nevertheless, Sum Ying was healthy throughout her life until 1989, when she developed a sudden paralysis of the right side of her body. The cause was a meningioma, a curable slow-growing brain tumour, that was pressing on her brain. The difficulty was in finding a surgeon who was willing to operate on a 90-year-old. Only Dr. Donald Griesdale, now deceased, was willing to take the risk. The rationale he gave was simple: given Sum Ying's love for life and her strong family support, how could he not at least try? For her part, Sum Ying did not think a 90-year-old like herself deserved surgery. She finally consented to it when the family promised to fulfill her childhood dream of seeing the Great Wall of China once she was able to walk again. The surgery was performed, and the doctor was able to remove most of the tumour, allowing a small amount to remain as it was not likely to cause further problems in a 90-year-old. As a result, Sum Ying was ultimately able to recover 80% of the functioning of her limbs. Two months after her brain surgery, Sum Ying travelled around the world with members of her family to see sights in Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, New Delhi, and Hong Kong. The culmination was a trip to Beijing where she was able to climb up to one of the towers of the Great Wall, and finally fulfill her childhood dream. It was also how Sum Ying was caught up in the activities of Tienamen Square on June 4, 1989. With tanks rolling by their hotel, and Beijing shut down by the military, the family was fortunately able to enlist the aid of a sympathetic German tour guide. He concealed the family in his busload of German tourists, and was able to take them to the airport and safety. The Tiananmen Square experience did not quench Sum Ying's love for travel. She celebrated her 101st birthday and welcomed the new Millennium with family members in Maui. Since then, she has also traveled to Yellowstone, Banff, Shuswap Lake for houseboating, multiple trips to San Francisco, and many places in between. Sum Ying last flew in 2010, when she was 111, to visit the new home of her grandson in California. However, life for Sum Ying started slowing down five years ago, when her right-sided weakness resulted in a fall and a broken leg, and she moved into the Renfrew Care Centre. She was nevertheless kept busy by members of her five-generation family with daytrips to restaurants, their homes, the parks, and sometimes even the casinos. Last year, Sum Ying showed signs that her meningioma was back, and CT scans earlier this year confirmed the suspicions. After 22 years, the small remnant left behind had grown to be a 5cm tumour. With Dr. Griesdale himself gone, doctors decided that the best course of treatment was to not do anything heroic. As the effects of the tumour progressed, Sum Ying soon lost her mobility and became bedridden. The immobility led to the development of her pneumonia and subsequent death. To the very end, however, Sum Ying enjoyed receiving visitors daily, as well as being taken on her beloved outings. Sum Ying is survived by her daughter Suey Que, her youngest son Suey Kee, and her eldest son's widow Yee Que. Beyond this generation, Sum Ying is survived by 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren. She lived long enough to see the birth of her latest great-grandchild, Sarafina Sau Lien, who was born on May 27, 2011. Friends and family are invited to a celebration of Sum Ying's life at Glenhaven Memorial Chapel on Friday, December 16, commencing at 12:30pm (1835 E. Hastings Street, Vancouver). After the service, there will be a procession to Forest Lawn Memorial Park for the burial ceremony (3789 Royal Oak Avenue, Burnaby). This will be followed by a luncheon at Fraser Court Seafood Restaurant around 3:30pm (3489 Fraser Street, Vancouver). The family would like to extend a special thanks to the staff of Renfrew Care Centre for the devoted care they have given Sum Ying over the years. We also wish to thank May Chan for her many years as a dedicated caregiver. When asked by a reporter on the secret of her longevity, Sum Ying had this to say: "Eat anything, eat everything, and always drink boiled water to avoid infection from germs". Wise words, from someone who lived, and enjoyed living, to the age of 112.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011


Friday, December 16, 2011

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