This biographical sketch was prepared in 2015 for a book commemorating Lily's alma mater Ginling by Sun Jianqiu
Lily C. C. Ho Quon - or Ho Chang-Chi (何昌祺, in pinyin: He Changqi) - is remembered by one of her daughters as a multifaceted woman: beautiful, outgoing, dynamic. She was a good cook, hardworking organizer and lively public speaker, who devoted herself tirelessly to her family and to many charitable efforts. She was always impeccably turned out. Her polished presence made her an ideal standard bearer for her alma mater, Ginling College, and for China - two of the causes closest to her heart.
Lily was born in Hawaii on October 18, 1902. She moved with her family to Nanjing as a young girl. Her father Ho En Seong (何英祥 He Yingxiang, 1873-1966) was a dentist. Her mother, Li Kwan Fei (李群輝 Li Qun Hui, 1878-1974), originally from the Huizhou area of Guangdong (廣東省惠州), was the sister of the better known Dr. Li Khai Fai (李啟輝 Li Qihui). With a photograph, Dr. Li introduced his sister Li Kwan Fei to his friend Dr. Ho.
Dr. Li and his wife, Dr. Kong Tai-Heong - Lily's uncle and aunt - earned fame for stopping an outbreak of plague in Honolulu. Lily maintained close ties all her life to a number of the Lis' nine children and to her home state of Hawaii. The Lis were an impressive medical family: Li Khai Fai's and Li Kwan Fei's mother (i.e., Lily's maternal grandmother) was supposedly one of the first women in China trained by Christian missionaries as a doctor; their sister Li Qinghui (李清輝) was also a Western medicine doctor - and minor figure in the 1911 revolution; and three of Dr. Li Khai Fai's and Dr. Kong Tai-Heong's nine children became doctors.
Lily and her family lived for many years in a spacious house in Nanjing in "Shek Pan Chiao" (石板橋 Shibanqiao, lit. "flagstone bridge") near the "Pan Chiao New Town" district (南京市板橋新村 Banqiao Xincun). Dr. Ho maintained his dental surgery on the ground floor. He was apparently the only reliable Western dentist in the city and he drew his clientele from the missionary and government community. Chiang Kai-shek was among his patients, and family legend has it that Dr. Ho, who believed in American egalitarian values, made the Generalissimo wait his turn just like anybody else.
While Dr. Ho was rather taciturn, Lily's mother was said to be a serene presence and gracious hostess. Unable to adjust to life in the US without servants, she was the one who had suggested the move to Nanjing. In the young republic's emerging capital the family grew and prospered. Lily was the oldest of six siblings who survived to adulthood. The others were Ivy (1906-1986), David (1910-1980), Guy (1912-1992), Ernest (1915-1978) and Doris (1920-2010?). Lily's girlhood photo album depicts a charmed existence, with picnic expeditions to Purple Mountain (紫金山) and a wide circle of friends entertained in their ample garden. Lucky visitors might be served hand-churned ice cream made from Carnation milk with their tea and cookies.
Both Lily and Ivy attended Ginling. Lily majored in music and was one of ten members of the Class of 1923, while Ivy (何昌麟) graduated as part of the Class of 1928. Lily adored the school and counted many of her schoolmates - most notably Maida Kuo Yuen (郭美德 Guo Meide) - among her dearest lifelong friends. She also kept in close touch with teachers such as Minnie Vautrin, Frederica Mead Hiltner and Ruth Chester. These confident, capable women were clearly Lily's first role models for the kind of civic engagement that she would embrace in her future American life. Classmate Blanche Wu recalled that the Class of 1923 motto was "Service". Blanche remembered Lily as "artistic, attractive and charming".
After graduating from Ginling in 1923, Lily remained in Nanjing, giving piano lessons and teaching music at Nanjing Christian Girls School. In 1927, she enrolled in the University of Southern California (USC) as a graduate student in music. It was there that she met business student Albert T. Quon (關康才 Guan Kangcai, 1901-2001). Albert had already been in the States for many years after being sent from Hoiping in Guangdong as a boy to live with an uncle. Lily and Albert were married on August 23, 1929 in the Majestic Hotel (大華飯店). It's believed this was the same Majestic Hotel in Shanghai where Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mayling had been married just two years earlier.
Initially the young couple settled in San Diego where Albert worked for his uncle's giftware business called "Quon Mane". A few years later, he struck out on his own, setting up what would become a much larger business purveying porcelains, cloisonné, lacquer and other decorative items imported from China, called "Quon-Quon". They moved to Los Angeles and over the years moved to successively larger houses, eventually building a showpiece house in the hills above Los Angeles in the 1950s.
The Quons proudly considered themselves the first Chinese residents of Beverly Hills and, like them, many of their friends were either first generation Chinese breaking ground in their respective fields or entrepreneurs. In Los Angeles, they were joined by Lily's brother Guy. Guy had attended the University of Nanking - essentially the male counterpart to Ginling College - and followed Lily to USC to become a dentist like their father, and later, a USC dentistry teacher.
Lily and Albert had four children: Alberta (關錦陵 Guan Jinling, 1930-1989) - the second character of her Chinese name paid tribute to her mother's connection to Nanjing and Ginling College, Liliane (關錦明 Guan Jinming, b. 1932), Jeannette (關錦烈 Guan Jinlie,1936-1964) and Ronald (關乾勳 Guan Qianxun, b. 1937). The younger two were supposedly named after the Hollywood stars Jeanette McDonald and Ronald Colman.
The same charms and smarts that made the Quons successful in the public realm made them stern taskmasters at home. All four children felt the weight of expectation that they be ambassadors for their race.
Lily brought her older daughters while still very young children to visit their grandparents in Nanjing for about nine months in 1934 to 1935. Her photo album shows many happy reunions with Ginling friends. Unfortunately, this would be the last time she saw most of her family until after the war and the last time she ever saw Nanjing. Lily completely lost touch with her family for a number of years and, not surprisingly, they were a cause of constant concern. Her parents and siblings Ivy and Ernest eventually settled in Hong Kong.
Back in Los Angeles, Lily found distinctive ways to support the war effort and help her compatriots. As the "United Service Organization" got underway, Lily and her friends cooked up Chinese food for Chinese-American troops stationed at bases in and around Los Angeles and San Diego who might be missing home. She also helped raise funds for United China Relief (UCR) which sought to aid the country's many internal refugees. One clever fundraising idea involved persuading a major Los Angeles department store - Robinson's or Bullock's - to donate its display windows. She dressed her own children and those of friends in Chinese clothing and installed them in the windows to sing Chinese songs. Outside the department store, she and the other mothers rattled collection cans. At another event, author Pearl Buck was the featured guest with Lily at her side. Ms. Buck was both a UCR board member and a friend, possibly from the mid-1920s when Ms. Buck taught briefly at Ginling.
During these war years, Lily was herself invited to speak about China on a number of occasions, and she did so with energy, humor and seriousness. In 1944, she founded the Los Angeles Chinese Women's Club to build bridges between the Chinese community and larger American community; in 1947, it became the ﬁrst non-Caucasian women's organization accepted into the California Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1945, she was named California State "Mother of the Year" by the Golden Rule Foundation. She also served for many years on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s International Committee, which was established in 1951 and exists to this day. The Ginling Association of America was also founded in 1951, and in 1964, Lily helped host its first Los Angeles reunion for about thirty alumnae and former teachers.
While music had been Lily's major at Ginling and USC and all her children studied instruments for many years, her son Ronald cannot recall ever hearing her play the piano. In her mature years, painting became her great love, and she practiced both ink and oil painting with considerable accomplishment.
In May of 1972, Lily was diagnosed with lung cancer. On October 1 of that year she died just shy of her seventieth birthday. By contrast, husband Albert would live on to the age of a hundred. Lily was survived by three of her four children and by seven grandchildren.
Lily asked to be remembered by the following poem by Rabindranath Tagore. The Bengali poet had given a rousing speech to students at the University of Nanjing in 1924, reminding us again of how formative were the influences of the 1920s and her Ginling years in shaping Lily's outlook on life.
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant that I may not be a coward, feeling Your mercy in my success alone;
But let me find the grasp of Your hand in my failure.
Fragrant Though the Vale be Empty Signed with Lily's Chinese name "Chang Chi". From a Confucian passage expressing the idea that as a bloom gives off its scent to please no one, a gentleman should not look to cultivate himself for appreciation by others.