Richard Liu Tai Fung:
A Life Remembered
didn't really know Tai Fung that well. A few months ago I met Lim Loong Keng, a close relative of his by marriage and the story of his sudden passing last February struck a chord in me. Which moved me to write this tribute.
V.I. girls and boys have a real family affinity. We feel very comfortable with one another. We do business with one another. We trust one another. It's uncanny! But that's the fact. So in many ways I felt close to Tai Fung - we didn't know him as Richard then.
Tai Fung had joined the V.I. from the ACS in Seremban. What I remember of Tai Fung was that I looked up to him in my own private way. He was a year my senior (graduating in 1960) but we were both in the arts stream; so he was sort of like my silent mentor. Tai Fung was always well dressed, always on the edge - he wore tighter pants than any of us and he was the first to have his collar up, following the Elvis look of those times. I remember him as a person pushing the limits and walking a fine line with regard to the V.I. dress code, always staying on the safe side of those watchful V.I. prefects! Heck, I even remember his sporting an Elvis-like curl in his lips... just to look real macho in those days!
Like the majority of V.I. boys, Tai Fung was always an enthusiastic participant in school sporting activities. I don't remember him as having excelled in any one sport, but he was always there, in his light blue T-shirt, on the field or in the pool giving his best for his House – Yap Kwan Seng House. (Funny how V.I. chaps are always able to identify what House we belonged to... must be the colour coding tricks playing in our minds). He was YKS basketball captain from 1958 to 1960 and was made the House Vice-Captain in 1960.
Of course he was omnipresent in activities like the Geographical Society trips, the oratorical contests, the talentime, the school quizzes. Ah, the good times we had at the school refectory... that glorious laksa was his favourite!!! And mine too!!! In addition he was a committee member of the V.I. Photographic Society. His camera-craft won him a consolation prize in the society’s annual photographic contest. And who could forget his fantastic rendition of Pat Boone’s Bernardine in the school’s talentime heats? And that wasn't all. He was an artist too, serving as Vice-Chairman of the school's art club. (This interest persisted into his working life; Tai Fung loved collecting Chinese and Asian art work so much that his home soon resembled an art warehouse.) His artistic talent saw an outlet in the annual Speech Day art exhibitions as well as in the design of stage sets for the tradition annual school plays staged for the public. Tai Fung was the main set designer for the V.I.'s 1958 Chinese play Lady Precious Stream and Drama Society's two one-act plays the following year. Tai Fung was the typical all-rounder Victorian - scholar, sportsman, gentleman.
We used to go to his house for the occasional school social parties, and we all had real good clean fun. The dancing was the best part, smooching on the floor with girls. Of course this good-looking lad had his fair share of admirers! His parents - always handy - didn't mind the social activities. They were used to them and were experts with kids, having eight children in all! His father was an artistic man and had given Tai Fung his name - "Tai" meant "representing" and "Fung" was "wind". As his surname meant "willow", many have commented on Tai Fung's very poetic name.
Even as his parents were raising their own large family, they still took in out-of-town V.I. boarders. I remember Likit Hongladarom, son of the Thai Ambassador and Tai Fung's classmate, and the likeable Aw Fong Eh having boarded there. Tai Fung had a younger brother and sister in V.I. whom I remember - Tai Koh, who resides in Hong Kong, married a K.L. girl, Pat Ho Sook Yin, and has twin daughters, now both living in the U.S., and Tai Meng resident in Singapore who married Low Siew Nghee and now widowed with a married son. Well, they were much quieter than Tai Fung - but all great V.I. kids.
Tai Fung ... Courtship, Marriage and First Job
After V.I., Tai Fung entered the University of Malaya as an entrance scholar to read economics. I followed him into the same Arts Faculty a year later to read history. There I saw that he was very involved in the Students’ Union. He even led a student delegation to Germany for three months on a study/work experience programme. Pantai Valley was where Tai Fung met his future wife, Kuok Siew Choong. On campus, one could count the number of Foochows on half a hand and yet these two Foochows ended up together! Kok Sim, a classmate, remembers what a very handsome and striking couple the two of them made, that they were really "lovey dovey", with eyes only for each other. Tai Fung was always polite and friendly to one and all, and never boastful. He and Siew Choong were very kind and generous friends, delivering welcome packets of fried noodles as supper to Kok Sim and others in the Third Residential College. When one remembers what college food was like, one will surely understand how grateful the receipients were!
After graduation and marriage, Tai Fung was recruited as personal assistant to the M.D. of Malaysian Sugar Refinery in Prai – the first such refinery in Malaysia - owned by the Kuok Group. After three years, Tai Fung joined the parent company in Singapore to become a sugar trader. He moved to Hong Kong in 1978 to join Kerry Trading Co., another member of the Kuok Group. Initially he was very involved with sugar trading but his responsibilities widened as the company expanded. He was variously Chairman or CEO of Kerry companies that dealt with foodstuffs, beverages, oils and grains. In the past few years Tai Fung was mostly involved in the Coca Cola business, with the Kerry Group appointed as bottlers in China, a business he was passionate about.
Tai Fung ... The Corporate Man
Kok Sim and her husband, Old Victorian Fan Yew Seng, watched as Tai Fung progressed up the corporate ladder in Hong Kong. They recall him as a very hardworking and busy person with sharp instincts for making the right decisions. Yet he would make time to entertain friends whenever they visited Hong Kong. Needless to say, Tai Fung was a very generous host and great company, regaling guests with all sorts of stories. With Siew Choong by his side, it was not difficult to see how they were able to achieve success in the home and business fronts.
Tai Fung passed away unexpectedly while at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch a plane on February 1, 2003. He is sadly missed by his family and friends. His passing even affected people like me who had lost touch with him for over 40 years. He contributed a great deal to the business community in China and Hong Kong. His support and contributions to the Hong Kong Vocational Centre - a centre catering to the mentally challenged - must not go unmentioned. Yes, he is and will be missed. God bless you, Tai Fung. You were a great friend and a true Victorian.
And finally, some words from Mrs. Liu:
"I am very touched and comforted by the outpourings of love and support from friends and colleagues far and wide. The common thread of tribute paid to Richard was that he touched many hearts as a friend and mentor. Though very senior in the organisation, Richard always kept a low profile but was well known for his approachability, honesty and sense of humour."
Tai Fung ... The Family Man
In tribute to Liu Tai Fung
... Fondly remembered by his V.I. classmate Ivy Ang (1960)
Last update on 19 January 2007.
Page-Keeper: Chung Chee Min