Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Obituary: Gam Lee

Gam Lee, MBE. Doctor, community leader. Died aged 74.

Gam Lee said on being made an MBE for services to medicine and the community that all he was doing was repaying his "debt" to NZ.

But the 1995 award followed decades of hectic work both for medicine and the communities in which he lived. During his life he became accustomed to rushing from his medical surgery to local body or medical administration meetings and to fundraising committees.

It was a work habit he started as a schoolboy, after his family had settled in Mangere Bridge, South Auckland. They had a 2ha market garden growing seasonal vegetables. Part of the land is now the site of the Chinese Community Centre that Dr Lee had a key role in building.

Young Gam Lee's days while at Otahuhu College included helping his parents in the market garden before school and again when he came home, then finding time to do his homework.

That was the way it was in those days, for the family were war refugees from the Japanese attacks on China in which millions died.

As a young boy Dr Lee walked 100km with his mother and an uncle from their little village in the Xin Tang province in what is now Guangzhou (formerly Canton) to the safety of Hong Kong.

He made it to NZ in 1940, his family coming on a temporary visa. The Japanese attacked Hong Kong in late 1941, only hours after their attack on Pearl Harbour.

The family's visa included a £200 bond (the male New Zealand average wage was then £5 a week). And they entered on the understanding they would eventually return to China, although the policy was later changed and they stayed.

Gam Lee went to Otago University and qualified as a doctor in 1959, the same year he became a naturalised New Zealander. His family describe his approach to life as "sheer determination". He was a psychiatric registrar in Otago for a time and helped his younger brother Peter through medical school.

Dr Lee started a general practice in sparsely settled Waiheke Island in the early 1960s. In three years there he was involved in setting up a Lions Club and being a member of the Waiheke County Council. After that his practice moved first to Mangere and later to Pakuranga. Apart from orthodox general practice and obstetrics he also got involved in acupuncture, manipulation, chelation therapy and other treatments and gave time to their organisations. He spent two terms on the Manukau City Council and one on the Auckland Hospital Board.

Apart from his numerous efforts in the Chinese community he was also a Rotarian for more than 20 years and helped establish the multicultural Harbourside Rotary Club.

He believed it was important for Chinese people in New Zealand to be involved in the community. "New Zealand adopted me and gave me an excellent education," he said in 1995. "I owe this country so much that I will never be able to repay my debt."

Dr Lee is survived by Hane, his wife of 50 years, two sons and a daughter.
By Arnold Pickmere | Email Arnold Obituary: Gam Lee By Arnold Pickmere
5:00 AM Saturday Jun 23, 2007

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