Who Was B.K. Kee
B.K. Kee1 (1909-1980) was an extraordinary woman who cherished family, education and her Christian faith. She was the matriarch of a family of nine children, including Dr. Lay Khin Kay, seventeen grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. She led her young family's evacuation from Burma/Myanmar ("Burma") to China during World War II. She managed the family business to provide financially for her children after her husband’s unexpected death, despite the Burmese government’s nationalization of all private businesses in the early 1960’s. Then, at the age of 63, she immigrated to the United States in order to pave the way for her children and their families to have an opportunity at a better life.
Despite being born in China during an era when girls were not afforded many opportunities for education, she developed a love of learning very early in her life. As an elementary school girl, in the evenings, she sat on a small stool with her baby brother fastened on her back in a papoose. Her schoolbooks rested on the floor beside a small lamp. While peeling peanuts for her father (who made a living selling a wide variety of peanut products), she tended her baby brother and studied. Despite those difficult circumstances, she excelled in her studies. Because of her outstanding grades, her teachers convinced her parents to send her to junior high school (a rarity for a girl in those days in China), and she eventually became a teacher. Throughout her life, her favorite pastime was to read books or the newspapers. Despite living in Burma which was isolated from the international community, she had a thirst for knowledge about the rest of the world. When the Burmese government no longer permitted the publication of a Chinese newspaper for her to read, she would get her son to translate the news from Time and Newsweek magazines. Much later in her life, after she came to the United States, it was not uncommon to see her with an English newspaper and her Chinese-English dictionary as she strived to master her new adopted homeland’s language. She walked half an hour each way everyday to an English adult school. She would ask her daughter, Dr. Kay, questions regarding the difference between "effect" and "affect." She was determined to learn English. She wanted to be able to talk to people in her new country and to read their newspapers. She said that she had to learn English so that she would not be blind. In 1978, using her newly acquired English skills to take the citizenship test, she proudly became a U.S. citizen.
B.K. Kee was also a devout Christian. Having been raised by Christian parents in China, she remained an active Christian throughout her life and regularly attended and served in the senior group at the Christ Methodist Church at 19th St. in Yangon, Myanmar. Because of her passion and knowledge of the Bible, she was asked on many occasions to speak at Sunday services. She continued to play an active role in the Chinese Christian community when she moved to the United States and was a faithful member of the Chinese Baptist Church of San Jose, California, at the time of her death. More importantly, her life exemplified the Christian values of compassion, humility, hope and love, and she imparted those values to her family.
In December 2005, Dr. Lay Khin Kay, B.K. Kee’s youngest daughter, established the B.K. Kee Foundation to honor the memory of this extraordinary woman.
(1) B.K. Kee’s Chinese name was Kee Beng Kung since the surname appears first in the Chinese tradition.