Chi Kong Ly, age 82, was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He was the fourth born of 6 children to his parents, Ly Wing Jou and Lau Sai Lan. His father passed away when he was young, and he took care of his mom. He was an entrepreneur at an early age and knew several languages, Cambodian, 3 Chinese dialects (Teo Chew, Cantonese, Mandarin) and Vietnamese. In his early twenties, he started his own printing business in Phnom Penh. In 1969, he was introduced to Koy Hour, and soon after, got married to her. His printing business was not doing well due to the political unrest at the time. Determined to provide for their new lives together, he pursued a gemstone business mining for sapphires and rubies at Pailin Province (also known as Jewel Mountain) near the border of Cambodia and Thailand.
In 1973, they were expecting their daughter, Siov Kheng, when Chi struck a lucky sapphire gemstone that he sold for big profits. That allowed him to purchase lands, motorcycles and build their custom house. In 1975, they had their second child. As the political unrest persisted, the Khmer Rouge regime took over and forced everyone to the countryside. Tragedy struck and they lost their one-month old son to starvation. Money was not worth anything and for the next four years, it was about survival and perseverance. In 1978, they had their third child, Siov Bouy. Shortly after, the Vietnamese army overturned the Khmer Rouge and allowed an opportunity for Chi and his family to escape from Cambodia to Thailand.
The journey on foot took over several months. Chi, his family and his sister-in-law, Koy Kieng Tan, finally crossed the Thai border, only to be sent back twice to the Cambodian border. He did not give up, and on the third attempt he continued to lead his family by following the beaten path for safe passage to the Thailand refugee camp. With his entrepreneurial spirit, he started a small business at the refugee camp by selling Chinese fry donuts and coffee to provide for his family while waiting for an opportunity to come to America. They lived at the refugee camp for two years. In 1980, he welcomed his fourth child, Uy Seng. Soon afterwards, his dream was answered. Chi, his family and sister-in-law were sponsored to America and arrived May 1981 in New York City.
Starting a new life in America with nothing, his friend advised him that living in a small town would provide an easier transition to raise a family, to learn a new language and culture. With that, the family moved to Farwell, Michigan with the support of the members of the community. There he reinvented himself by learning English, learning how to drive, farm and do handyman work. After two years of enduring cold winters, he decided to move to sunny Oakland, California in 1983. With his focus on work ethics, Chi continued to learn various construction skillsets like painting, dry wall and ultimately, every aspect of remodeling a house with an eye for details and perfect quality. In 1989, with a goal of owning their first home in the Bay Area, he and his wife opened an ice cream cafe in San Francisco, where his wife ran the cafe while he continued to work full time at his construction job. During the mornings, he would drive his wife to the cafe in San Francisco, take his children to school in Oakland, then go to his job site. In the evenings after work, he would pick up his wife to go home. On the weekends over seven years, he and son would go buy supplies to replenish inventory and their daughters helped mom at the cafe. He even worked on small remodeling side-jobs with his son. He sacrificed and worked hard so that his family could have a brighter future. He encouraged his children to focus on education and go to college, so that they would not have to work as hard as he did. He was very proud when his three children graduated college from UC Berkeley and UC Davis.
With over 30 years of craftmanship in remodeling houses, after retiring he continued to do various small projects and loved to share his expert advice with his sons-in-law.
With his love of travel and adventures, Chi and his wife were able to travel to many countries such as Cambodia, China, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Denmark, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada. During his travels, he parasailed, fed a baby tiger, rode an elephant and horse. He loved to spark a conversation, at any place, with anyone and made personal connections with those he met. He enjoyed traveling to Cambodia for the tropical fruits, like durian, and also to visit his extended family. He and his wife never forgot their humble roots and paid it forward by helping their families. He was especially proud that he was able to pay for medical school for his grandson who became a doctor in Cambodia.
In March 2016, he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. That did not stop his determination to live. Most of the time, he insisted that he could drive himself to his treatments that involved many blood work, CT scan, PET scan, bone scan, chemotherapy, radiation and doctor appointments. During the last four months when treatment was no longer working, he fought to the very end enduring the pain with a strong mind and big heart. He passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of October 15, 2020, at his home with his loving wife by his side.
He is survived by his wife, Koy Hour; their children and their spouses, Siov Kheng and Bruce Nguyen, Siov Bouy and Chester Sarreal, Uy Seng and Rafi Burns Ly; 6 grandchildren in America, Nathan, Meghan, Nicholas, Kai, Cario, and Rio; his third brother, Ly Chi Thi, his sister-in-law and two nephews in Shanghai; his 2nd sister-in-law, two nieces and one nephew in Canada; his sister-in-law, Koy Kieng, his brother-in-law, 2 nephews and 1 niece in America. Additionally, he is survived by his two daughters from a prior marriage and his 7 grandchildren in Cambodia.
Chi Kong’s legacy is one of hard work, determination, selflessness, adaptability, courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, kindness and integrity. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. He accomplished so much in his lifetime and his legacy will continue. He will be forever loved, missed and remembered by his family and everyone who knew him.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are limited in the number of attendees. A private visitation will be held at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito from 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and gravesite burial service at 1:00 p.m. will be held at Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond on Friday, October 23, 2020.