Sui Har Chow, 90, passed away peacefully and surrounded by family in Boston, MA on April 17, 2021. Sui Har, known as “Zhou Tai” (Mrs. Chow) within the Cantonese-speaking community or affectionately as Ning-Ning (paternal grandmother) to her large family, will be deeply missed by both those who knew and loved her most, and those who had just the briefest encounter with this imminently elegant woman who charmed and delighted anyone in her midst. While her English may not have been perfect, she never let language be a barrier, working a room at large parties with a winning smile and palpable warmth that could transcend language, cultural, and generational divides. It was in her native, Cantonese tongue, however, that she really shined. She was ever ready to hold court with her smart quips, unique turns of phrase, and unexpected jokes — delivered with a glint in her eye and her signature, expressive flair. She was often admired for her cleverness, perhaps most so by her mah-jong opponents, as she was always a few steps ahead and won most games she played.
Sui Har was born in 1930 in Hong Kong, where she attended the St. Mary’s School. She married her husband, the late Siu U. Chow, and they had three sons, Joseph, Louis, and Peter. In 1967, seeking better education and opportunities for the children, the family of five immigrated to the United States. They settled in Clarksdale, MS, where they ran a grocery store called Chow’s Market, 365 days a year, for over twenty years. In 1986, Sui Har and Siu U. retired to Boston, MA, joining their sons and their families, and had a wonderful time helping to raise seven grandchildren in the ensuing years.
While much of her early life was characterized by hardship, sacrifice, and adversity, the period she spent helping to raise her grandchildren and supporting her sons and their families establish successful careers and comfortable lives was — according to her — the happiest and most fulfilling chapter of her life. Growing up during the Japanese occupation in Southern China and raising a young family in a new country, Sui Har faced considerable adversity, which shaped her into a formidably strong, resilient, and resourceful person. She was determined to give her sons a good education to unlock opportunities, and to carve out a place for herself and her family within the communities in which she lived.
Through it all, she was an unwavering optimist, fearless in the face of challenges, and encouraged her children and grandchildren to seize the opportunities in front of them. She, herself, let little stand in her way. In a time when few women drove in Hong Kong, she got her driver’s license and drove her family around the city. She was a self-taught and prolific knitter, outfitting her grandchildren in beautiful sweaters all through their childhoods (they were very warm) and leaving each of her grandchildren with piles of sweaters in every color and pattern for the next generation of great grandchildren.
She lived with her youngest son and daughter in law, Peter and Rosana Chow, in Newton, MA since the 1990s and helped raise their two daughters, Erika and Monica. She also looked after each of her grandchildren until they were of school age, a younger one often strapped to Ning-Ning’s back, the older ones playing outdoors on bikes or piling into her car to go on summer beach excursions to Gloucester, MA.
Family was the most important thing to Sui Har. One of her greatest pastimes and memorable displays of love came in the form of concocting elaborate home-cooked meals. She was never happier than when hosting a large family gathering, preparing 10-course Chinese meals from scratch. It was not uncommon for her to show up at one of her sons’ doorsteps with a giant pot of soup prepared to bolster good health. And her family relished the semi-annual preparation of zhong, a weeks-long process of washing lotus leaves, salting eggs, preparing fillings, and carefully wrapping the rice and fillings in leaves, all tied in string. The zhong recipe will be passed down to the next generation as perhaps one of the most enduring, immediately evocative reminders of dear Ning-Ning.
There will be a considerable void in the Chow family, where Ning-Ning was only half-jokingly referred to as “The Matriarch” or even, “The Queen” by her loved ones. Despite humble beginnings, she had an innately elegant, if not downright regal bearing. She was always well-turned -out, with hair done up by her long-time friend and hairdresser, Ying, and a string of pearls or jade brooch adorning a smart outfit — always perfectly suited to the occasion and just a cut above what the dress code might demand. With her enviably good posture, graceful movement, impeccable style, and unmatchable charm and warmth, she drew people in. And for those who were raised by her or called her a close friend or relative, there was no one more loving, open-minded, and supportive.
Until age 89, Sui Har could be seen zipping around town in her SUV, always proudly independent and full of life. She was an avid Patriots and Michigan football fan, having learned to watch the sport supporting her youngest son Peter’s high school football career. She was also a long-time Tiger Woods fan and loyally followed the Celtics for years until her doctors advised her to stop watching for health reasons, as she got so excited watching the games. She enjoyed dining out and joining her sons and their families on travels around the world, from Cape Cod, to Hilton Head, to Paris, London, or her beloved Hong Kong. It is with a sense of peace and gratitude that she departs, having lived a long and rewarding life and leaving behind a proud legacy in the family she and her husband brought into this world and gave so much opportunity.
Sui Har was predeceased by her husband, Sui U. Chow, and son Louis Chow. She is survived by her son Joseph Chow and and his wife Selina and children, Joanna, Jason, and Kathryn, of Brookline, MA; son Peter and his wife Rosana and daughters Erika and Monica of Newton, MA; daughter-in-law Karen Chow and her sons Stephen and Adam of Brookline, MA; stepdaughter Maria Mah and children; stepdaughter Anita Szeto and her husband Peter and children; and brother James AuYeung and his wife Judy and daughter Yolanda.
Donations in tribute to Sui Har Chow may be made to Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center to help the next generation of Asian immigrants pursue their American dreams. Please visit BCNC.net.
Visitation will be held on Friday, April 23, 6:30-8:30pm and Saturday, April 24, 10am-11:30am at Lehman, Reen, McNamara Funeral Home at 63 Chestnut Hill Ave, Brighton, MA 02135. Interment private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) at bcnc.net or 885 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111.
To view Sui Har Chow's video slideshow, please visit https://youtu.be/Cv35bHKF5Oo
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