As a student at UH Manoa in 1936, she wrote the plays, "For You a Lei" and "Marginal Woman," which many Asian-American literature researchers consider to be the earliest examples of the use of pidgin English in writing. These works are in several literary anthologies and an academic database.
After graduate school in New York, she returned to Hawaii and began a 30-year career as a librarian. For the first year, she drove a bookmobile for the state in rural areas, also working at Palama Settlement and at Kaimuki Library. She then became a catalog librarian for UH Manoa at Sinclair and Hamilton libraries, taking time off for maternity leaves. From 1970-1974 she became the library ombudsman for UH and retired in 1974 to begin many happy years of traveling with her husband Jewett, reading, gardening, and taking classes in cooking and piano.
Wai Chee was a lover of all things beautiful -- art, music, dance, literature, and flowers. She also strongly believed in the power of education and its ability to lift oneself and others out of a poverty of body, mind, and spirit. An active member in community organizations, she belonged to Mortar Board, Hawaii Library Association, Association of Chinese University Women, Chinese Historical Center, Yang Chung Hui, National Conference of Chinese Churches, and the United Church of Christ-Judd Street.
Her affinity for language and research led her to write many articles for United Church of Christ-Judd Street on the founding of the church as well as its architectural features. And as one of the keepers of her family's genealogy, she loved to trace its local heritage to a dry goods store in Chinatown. This store gave rise to King-Smith Clothiers which was one of the originators of the "Aloha shirt."
She is predeceased by her husband Jewett, her daughter Marilyn Hughes, and six siblings. She is survived by her daughters Elizabeth "Libby" Murray Yee and Julie Yee, and grandchildren Kevin Hughes, Karna Hughes, and Sam Murray. The family wishes to thank Bryan and Perly Agcaoili and the Jerrylyn Nicolas Agency for their loving care.
Private services were held Aug. 6, 2020. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date. Donations may be made in her memory to: United Church of Christ-Judd Street, Hawaii Meals on Wheels, Friends of the Library, or a charity of your choice.
Arrangements Provided By:
Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary LLC