Councillor Philip Yeung


Councillor Philip Yeung was as a true man of the people, who made a significant contribution to Hamilton and particularly its ethnic communities.

Philip died today following a short illness. He was 60, and into his second term as Hamilton City Council East Ward Councillor, having first been elected in 2013. His election to the Council followed a 12-year stint as the organisation's Ethnic Communities Advisor, working in the Community Development Team.

Philip's parents  met and married in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, raising Philip – born in in 1956 - and their four other children in an impoverished shantytown environment.

Regardless of their situation, with two younger siblings to look out for, Philip always pushed through and gave his best. The family's livelihood depended on machine knitting and selling garments, and it was up to Philip and his older brother to deliver all finished garments by hand, using push trolleys all over Hong Kong.

As a child, Philip's studies suffered during the winter months due to his garment runs, but in the summer he would do his best to catch up and complete exams and classes, allowing him to move up to the next year every year.

He attended Hong Kong Polytechnic after high school and received a Diploma in Textiles.

After a couple of years of sales work, he decided to change the direction of his career and returned to school for his Certificate in Tourism. He had plenty of fun in tourism and ended up working in the industry for 16 years. The one-year tourism course was also where Philip met Alice, along with a whole group of raucous, life-long friends.  

Philip and Alice moved to New Zealand in 1996, with their daughter, Jeannie.

In a piece written for the Kete Hamilton website in 2008, he revealed the decision to move to New Zealand was motivated by the desire to give Jeannie a better life.

"Back in Hong Kong, there're no times for leisure activities," he wrote. "Studying was the only thing in her (Jeannie's) daily life. Since we moved to New Zealand (when she was eight years old), she learnt violin and played badminton. Another reason for the move was about the lifestyle. My wife and I were both working in travel agents in Hong Kong. It was a very busy industry with a great deal of pressure on our family life."

Unable to progress his travel sector career in Hamilton, a chance meeting with a property sales professional led him to train as a real estate agent. He sold property for five months before a minor health issue intervened and put him off work.

Liaising with other Hong Kong expatriates, he took a role working in a fish and chip shop and even invested in the business.

"I went home everyday with my glasses filled with oil vapour, my hands were burnt with boiling oil and my back was sore as the kitchen sink was so low," he recalled. "I knew that's not what I do for the rest of my life."

While working in the takeaway business he undertook part-time study at Wintec and AUT, to gain a qualification as an interpreter. He went on to work as an interpreter in Hamilton, providing his expertise in English, Cantonese and Mandarin at Waikato Hospital and to New Zealand Police.

Working as an interpreter led to a role as an English as a Second Language (ESOL) home tutor with English Language Partners Hamilton, based at what is now known as Settlement Centre Waikato on Boundary Road. He would go on to spend countless hours at the centre, which Alice and Jeannie often joked was his second home.

By late 2001 he was searching for a new professional challenge and was employed in a Hamilton City Council role then known as Ethnic Communities Advisor.

His personal experience as a migrant would inform much of his professional work with the Council and help him to develop extensive connections into Hamilton's ethnic communities.

Philip worked with staff at Community Radio Hamilton to give the city's ethnic communities a broadcast voice and in later years, when the station became Free FM, he would take on a governance role as a member of the Waikato Community Broadcasting Charitable Trust.

The station is one of numerous community organisations in which he had a close and ongoing involvement with over the course of several years. He had a long involvement with the Indigo Trust and the New Zealand Ethnic Football Festival, which he helped launch in the early 2000s.

His weekends and evenings would often be spent attending meetings and events, some of which he would host as Master of Ceremonies.

He became a Justice of the Peace in 2007 which further enabled him to help the ethnic communities he had become synonymous with.

Refugee settlement and citizenship ceremonies also punctuated his role with the Council and across the city, and in 2011 – while still on the Council staff - he received a Civic Award for Services to the Community.

In 2013 he stood for the East Ward and became the city's first ethnic Chinese elected member. He gained 6066 votes which made him the third-highest polling candidate in the ward.

In his first term he was the Deputy Chairman of the Community Forum Sub-Committee, and in 2014 was the only councillor to vote against the fluoridation of the city's water supply.

While in his first term he continued to attend dozens of events and retained his strong links to the city's ethnic communities.

He was re-elected in 2016, and under new Mayor Andrew King took on the role as Deputy Chair of the Community and Services Committee.

Condolence cards can be sent to the Yeung family, c/- Hamilton City Council, Private Bag 3010, Hamilton.  Philip's family has asked the community to make donations to Waikato Hospice, rather than send flowers.​

Page reviewed: 30 Sep 2017 12:32pm