Sau Ying Lee lost everything, twice.
Lee was born in 1924 in China, in the years between the last Emperor and the rise of Mao Zedong. She came from a well-to-do family, but when the communists took power, everything was taken from China’s rich families. Penniless, the Lee family escaped to Hong Kong, where Lee held three jobs to scrape together the money for plane tickets to the U.S., once it became clear that Hong Kong too, would be governed by the Communists.
The Lees moved here in 1972, when Saw Ying was 48. She never learned English, but worked as a babysitter and head of household for four children and eventually, five grandchildren, including her son Michael, now a teacher at LaFayette High School in Brooklyn.
At 91, her son, Michael Chung says, she was mentally alert and read the paper every day. “She believed the more we are informed, the better citizens we can become,” Chung said.
“Your birthday is coming up, I’m going to help you celebrate,” Lee told her grandson, Chung’s son in late September. Saw Yang Lee didn’t live to see that birthday. In the early morning hours of October 14, she became the 200th New Yorker to die in a traffic crash in 2014, walking across Canal Street near Elizabeth, a few blocks from her home of 40 years.
This collision happened on October 14, 2014 near Elizabeth Street and Canal Street in Manhattan. See details in the Mean Streets Tracker.