Trifecta of friends until the end
Dolly Wong, b Wellington, October 28, 1911; m Willie Wong, Shatou Village, southern China, August 9, 1931; 2s, 3d; d May 25, 2013, Lower Hutt, aged 101.
Molly Ting, b Blenheim, November 3, 1911; m Joseph Ting, Wellington, 1933; 2s, 1d; Lower Hutt, June 4, 2013, aged 101.
Dorothy Gee, b Patea, January 25, 1921; m George Gee Wellington, October 7, 1940; 1s, 1d; d Lower Hutt, May 25, 2013, aged 92.
Dolly Wong, Molly Ting and Dorothy Gee were three lifelong friends who all lived in the Shona McFarlane Retirement Village in Avalon before dying within 10 days of each other.
The three New Zealand-born Chinese women were related and had family links to the village of Sungai, outside Guangzhou in Southern China's Pearl River Delta region. Dolly Wong's father and Dorothy Gee's grandfather were brothers while Molly Ting and Dolly Wong, who both lived for 101 years, were sisters-in-law.
To the end of their days the three women exhibited many of the small village life communal values inherited from their adventurous ancestors.
They personified three classic common Chinese values throughout their lives by working hard for their communities, helping run family businesses and encouraging family and friends.
Where they differed from the traditional Chinese grandmothers was that they all refused to live with their families in later life. They opted instead for an independent retirement village.
All three led highly productive lives working alongside their hard-working husbands.
Dolly Wong (nee Yuet Wun Chin Ting) and her husband, Willie Wong, ran a fruit and vege business in Naenae from 1956-76 following an earlier 20-year stint running the general store at Utiku, on State Highway 1.
Dorothy Gee was the wife of George Gee, Petone mayor between 1968 and 1980, and the couple ran their busy fruit and vege shop in Jackson St, Petone.
Molly Ting's father-in-law, James Chin Ting, owned and operated a market garden on the land where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now stands in Moxham Ave, Hataitai.
The Tings' highly successful Hataitai market garden supplied products for the family's Yee Chong Wing and Te Aro Seeds businesses, which operated (up to 1984) from premises on the corner of Courtenay Place and Tory St.
Wong was educated at Clyde Quay school in Wellington before moving with her parents to China, where she completed her education at a Chinese school in Guangzhou.
While on this trip she met and married her husband, Willie Wong, in Shatou before returning to New Zealand in 1931.
The couple settled in Taihape and in 1937 bought the general store in Utiku at the bottom of the then very windy Mangaweka Hill.
The couple spent 13 happy years in this small rural community until 1950 when their older son, Ken, a dux of Whanganui Technical College, drowned while on a fishing trip with a friend in the Rangitikei River.
The tragedy saw the family return to Wellington in 1951 for a new start. Willie Wong worked at Te Aro Seeds temporarily before setting up a Naenae fruit and vege shop business.
He sold the shop in 1976 and died in 1996.
Dolly Wong continued to live in the family's home in High St, Lower Hutt, until buying her studio unit at the Shona McFarlane home in 2001.
Ting (nee Low) was born in Blenheim 101 years ago as the fourth child in a family of eight. Her parents migrated from China and set up the Chong Lee and Co fruit and vegetable business in Market St, Blenheim.
She left Marlborough College, aged 15, so she could work in the family fruit and vege shop. She married Joseph Ting at St Mark's Church, , the Basin Reserve in Wellington, in 1933.
She lived at the Ting family's market gardens in Moxham Ave, Hataitai, before she and Joseph moved in to their own home at Strathmore, in Wellington's eastern suburbs. In this home the Tings raised two sons and a daughter.
Joseph Ting died in 1972 and Molly Ting decided to join her sister-in-law Dolly Wong as a resident of the Shona McFarlane home in 2001.
Gee was the eldest of seven children born to Charles and Ping Soon Bing in southern Taranaki. In 1934 the family, like a lot of Chinese New Zealanders then, returned to China to complete their education.
They stayed there for three years but the Japanese invasion of Manchuria resulted in a decision to return to New Zealand, where they settled in Blenheim.
In 1940, Dorothy Bing married George Gee and settled in Petone, where they ran their fruit and vege business in Jackson St. Dorothy Gee was very much an equal partner in the business and in the early days even got her heavy truck licence. The couple took an active part in the community and in 1968 George was elected mayor of Petone (New Zealand's first Chinese mayor).
After her husband died in 1984, Dorothy remained active until 2007 when she followed in the footsteps of Dolly Wong and Molly Ting by checking herself in to the Shona McFarlane Retirement Village. She died on the same day as Dolly Wong.
For a time Molly Ting, Dolly Wong and Dorothy Gee all shared a meal table at their Avalon retirement village – three hardworking women whose ancestors left the most densely populated country on Earth to create a better life for their families in a sparsely populated land at the bottom of the world.
Sources: Robert Ting, Brian Gee, Priscilla Cheung, Helene Wong, Carolyn Sang and Raymond Young.
The Dominion Post