Posted On February 12th, 2012 -


Hai Luen Chao Leavitt was born in Shanghai, China, on February 25, 1943, the first of six children of an architect/industrialist father. The family lived in the French Concession and adopted many Western practices, including having a piano in the home. As the eldest daughter of a respectable family, Hai Luen was expected to learn to play it to perform for visiting guests, something she became adept at quickly.

When the Communists took over Shanghai, the Chao family escaped to Hong Kong. There, Hai Luen learned English and refined her mastery of the piano, which she saw as a ticket to immigrate to the U.S. Once in the U.S., she matriculated to The Juilliard School in New York City.

In New York in the 60s, Hai Luen lived the life of a poor foreign student, and the habits of thrift and aversion to waste that she gained in that period stayed with her throughout her life. Her striking good looks attracted the attention of model scouts, and Richard Avedon gave her one of her first modeling jobs. She subsequently was featured in several national ad campaigns and continued modeling as a side-career for the next ten years.

Hai Luen moved to Hawai’i in the mid-60s, where she was an instructor at the UH music department, and then founded her own piano school–the Young Artists Studio of Piano– with multiple locations on O’ahu.

In late 1969, she met her future husband, attorney Jim Leavitt, who was then a Marine Corps captain. They were married in early 1974. She raised two daughters, Jocelyn and Andrea, and gave them an unconventional upbringing for a Chinese mother; she was an artist, and was the antithesis of a “tiger mom.” She championed individualism; her intellectual orientation and 60s idealism informed her outlook for the rest of her life.

She had a flair for and interest in fashion, in jewelry, and in real estate. Just as her mother had before her, she looked at the financial section of the newspaper before turning to anything else. Along with her husband, she was a supporter of the symphony and the opera in Hawai’i.

Hai Luen died in Hong Kong on January 23, 2012, while visiting there to attend funeral services for her mother, to whom she was devoted her entire life. She leaves her loving husband and daughters, and many dear friends who will forever feel the loss of this elegant, talented and kind person.

In lieu of flowers or other gifts, Hai Luen’s family invites you to contribute to a scholarship they have set up in her name at Juilliard. Please make checks payable to The Juilliard School. They can be given to the family or sent c/o Jim Leavitt, 737 Bishop St. #1740, Honolulu, HI 96813.

A service to honor her life and to remember her will be held on Friday, February 17th at 5:00 p.m. at the Pacific Club. If you would like to speak at the service, please contact Jim Leavitt at 521-7474.

Please share your memories at: www.1000memories.com/hailuen

- Denotes U.S. Military Veteran