Remembering Kee Sun Chung, A Father Who Honored ‘The Best of the World’

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Kee Sun Chung passed away of COVID-19 on May 6, 2020 at age 71. His son, Jason Chung, honors his father in his own words.  (Kelly Heigert (portrait), Vida Kuang (florals and background). )

Editor's Note: This community tribute was written by Bay Area resident Jason Chung in memory of his father.  Would you like to share a memory of someone you know who passed away from COVID-19? Share your memory of them here.

My dad was born in Korea and moved to New York City in the late ’70s. He was a very proud Queens resident, and he worked hard, like most immigrant families did in NYC. At the time of his death, he was a retired florist in Woodside, Queens. He also owned a deli grocery in Brooklyn back in the ’80s, and owned a small supermarket in Long Island after that.

Jason Chung, pictured with his brother and father Kee Sun Chung in Woodside around 1983.
Jason Chung, pictured with his brother and father Kee Sun Chung in Woodside around 1983. (Courtesy of Jason Chung)

Kee took great pride in his appearance and liked to look good. He took up Latin dancing in his sixties, and said he was really good at it — and I believe him. On one trip to Korea during my twenties, I was at my aunt's place, his older sister, getting ready to go out for the evening and she said I was exactly like him when he was my age, getting fancied up to enjoy an evening out on the town.

He was a loving and charming husband, father, and grandfather to our family. My younger brother lives in Kansas City with his wife and two kids. Kee was connected to the Bay Area through me, his oldest son, and my wife and our newborn.

The last time I saw my dad was in February. I was back home in New York for a work trip, and my wife flew out to spend the weekend with me. We went out for dinner with my dad and two of my best friends and their families joined us. My dad was also very close to these friends and he considered them his sons as well.

That dinner has some great memories for me — my dad and I sat next to each other and we scanned our menus together. We'd ask each other what we were going to order and suggest to the other what they should order so we could sample different dishes. I found myself even getting slightly annoyed with my dad, but inside it made me chuckle and made me very happy because I realized that's exactly what I do when I go out to eat with close friends and family. As I get older, I realize I'm more like my dad in ways that I had not seen in the past.

Kee Sun Chung as a young man in Korea, before moving to New York City.
Kee Sun Chung as a young man in Korea, before moving to New York City. (Photo courtesy of Jason Chung)

It was also those two friends that I called upon to check on my dad when I didn't hear from him for a couple days and got worried. These friends got my dad to the hospital so he could get treatment, and they are still helping me now as I work through his affairs since I am not able to be in New York to handle them myself. He ended up at Elmhurst Hospital and by a strange twist of fate, the pulmonologist that worked with him is cousins with some other very close friends of mine.

I never would have imagined that I would be one of those people you read about that can't be next to their loved one in their final moments, instead saying goodbye through an iPad, but it became my reality. My dad lived in Woodside and it, along with the adjacent neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, were some of the hardest hit areas in the entire country. I'm forever grateful to the medical professionals for their bravery and tireless efforts as they work through this pandemic.

My father named my son — his grandson. They never had the chance to meet in person, but it’s a gift he gave my son that he will have forever. Despite everything that happened, I feel fortunate that my dad met his new grandson via FaceTime and that he knew he named him. That made him feel very proud. In some Korean families, it's tradition for the paternal grandfather to name the children. I always knew my dad would give my children their Korean names, so we got a short list from him when we found out we were expecting. We didn't know if we were having a boy or girl and we didn't have an "American" name selected either.

Two days after our son was born, we named him Noori, which means "the best in the world" in Old Korean. I learned the name also has meanings in Indian, Persian, Arabic, and Aramaic languages, which made it all the more important — being represented in old languages and cultures. I thought I would give him an Anglo name as his first name, but we decided that we really love the name Noori and made that his official name. We felt it was especially important given the current state of our country and how the definition of what it means to be American is evolving. My son was born in Oakland and is fully American, but he has strong roots to his Korean heritage.

If you are actively grieving and looking for support, we have a guide to resources that offer help.