It Takes a Family to Comfort a Family
Yok Shun Leong
Yok Shun “Jade” Leong, 90, passed away at home in Yorktown, VA on April 9, surrounded by her family. “Miss Jade” was a Tidewater resident for over five decades and considered Newport News her home. She served as the owner/operator of Port Arthur Chinese and American Restaurant, which became a local institution and remained one of the longest family-owned businesses in the area. Known for its famous Chicken Chow Mein, Jade ran Port Arthur with her husband, Jung Fun (“Johnny”) until his death in 1981. Widowed with five children and with no formal education and limited English, Jade continued as sole owner/operator of the restaurant until her retirement in 2005. During that time, she brought joy to the Hampton Roads community, greeting every customer with a warm and welcoming smile. For longtime patrons, dinner at Port Arthur was more than just a meal – it was a warm embrace from a lifelong friend.
Jade was born in a small farming village in Guangdong Province, China in 1930. Life as a young girl in a patriarchal society proved challenging, as women were viewed as subordinate to men and were relegated to family roles of wife, mother and daughter. Early on, Jade knew the inherent value of an education and begged to be allowed to attend school. Recognizing her intelligence and inquisitiveness, her father did permit her to attend school until the age of 12 when she was needed to tend to the family fields. After an arranged marriage at 16 to Johnny, who had been living in Newport News but sought a Chinese bride, they remained in China until 1949. Johnny then returned to the US, seeking opportunity and prosperity for their future, but was forced to leave his pregnant wife behind. They would not be reunited again until 1965 when Jade and their daughter Pearl came to America after anti-immigration restrictions were lifted. Once in the States, they quickly expanded their family, having four more children (three daughters and a highly-sought after son).
Family, above all else, was the single most important thing to Jade and her greatest accomplishment in a very accomplished life. Always reinforcing the necessity of a good education, she would ensure that all of her children graduated from college. Although her children were all high achievers, Jade was not the proverbial “Tiger Mom” – she did not prescribe hours of studying, music lessons were optional, sports and social events were encouraged and supported. But she did expect her children to understand and appreciate the opportunities that were not available to her and to never take them for granted.
Unconstrained by the Confucian conventions of patriarchy and patrilineage, she strove to make life better for her and her family. While she had no formal education, she was a natural entrepreneur, master negotiator and had a keen and innate business acumen. Her children would all play active roles in the family business, and Jade would often share her pearls of wisdom: a hard work ethic is the key to success; be generous and flexible – but don’t let people take advantage of you; and honesty and integrity above all else. She was known for her discerning taste — reserving her accolades for the truly exceptional. She valued quality over quantity. She was not impressed by the grandiose, but rather saw beauty and value in the simpler things like a good meal, good service or a finely tailored suit. She did not shy away from sharing her unfiltered opinion, and her high standards meant compliments were earned and not freely given.
She was a self-taught seamstress, tailoring her own clothes and clothes for her children as a way to relax. She was an avid gardener, mahjong player and a lover of Cantonese opera. She enjoyed traveling and visited numerous countries – but had a special affection for the island of Bermuda. Despite her many passport stamps, she valued the comforts of her home and her family more than any foreign destination.
In her retirement, her grandchildren became the light of her life. She relished in large and often noisy family gatherings, surrounded by love and laughter and, of course, good Chinese food. No matter the occasion or celebration, all shared a common love, admiration and respect for the matriarch and center of her large, extended family.
She is survived by her children: Pearl Babcock of Yorktown, VA; Tammy Reinhardt (Gary) of Midlothian, VA; Susie Leong (Thomas Lepkowski) of Silver Spring, MD; Stephen Leong (Veronika) of Williamsburg, VA; Jennifer Leong of Delray Beach, FL; and grandchildren: Brandon Babcock, Ashley Smith; Claudia and Alex Reinhardt; Ella, Quinn and Marin Lepkowski, Julia Leong and great-granddaughter, Windsor Smith. She is also survived by a brother in Guangdong, China. Her legacy will live on in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will continue to honor her by working hard, showing kindness and generosity and exhibiting strength of character.
A visitation will be held on Saturday, April 17 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at Peninsula Funeral Home, 11144 Warwick Blvd, Newport News, VA. A graveside service will be held on Sunday, April 18 at 11:00 a.m. at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 8100 Granby St, Norfolk VA. Face masks and social distancing required.
Memorial donations can be made to Heartland Hospice, who provided compassionate and supportive care every step of the way.
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