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October 19, 1925 ~ November 10, 2023 (age 98) 98 Years Old
At the age of twelve, James Ding Fon Gee left his village in China and walked to Hong Kong to board a ship bound for America. Settling in New York City in the 1930s, James attended school during the day and worked in a hand laundry at night. James went on to have his own laundry, run a television repair shop, and become New York Chinatown's first Chinese electrician at a time when Chinese were not allowed to work in specialized trades. Many of New York Chinatown's restaurants had their electricity set up by James Gee.
Later, with the support of his wife Alice, James struck out on his own as a refrigerator and air conditioner contractor. Alice and James's store Yuen Ming Co. on Bayard Street became a New York Chinatown meeting spot. At Yuen Ming Co., laundrymen could get help writing letters to families in China, socialize on Sundays when laundries throughout the city were closed, and consult with an immigration lawyer about bringing their families to America.
Of all of his accomplishments, James was most proud of bringing his family to America. His mother, brother, and his family came to the U.S. from Hong Kong in the 1960s. Later when James learned of a sister’s loss of sight, he sponsored her immigration from China despite the personal financial risk. This decision later allowed her children to also immigrate over. James had great joy in watching his nieces and nephews and also their children succeed in America.
James was very active in the Chinatown community. He participated in the Gee Poy Kuo Association in New York and served as the association's president for many years. When the Gee Association building in Chinatown needed to be renovated, James helped the association members develop a financial plan that avoided taking out a bank loan and oversaw construction. James's contractor experience further helped him manage other Chinatown community projects.
James moved from New York City to California five years ago to be near his children. Most importantly to his children – Joyce, Victor and Michael - James Gee was a devoted father; loving grandfather to Benjamin, James, Michael Christopher, Amanda, Caroline and Kathy; and "super grandpa," as he was known by his great-granddaughters – Alice, Kimberly and Michelle. We owe him everything.