Charles Hui played many roles – businessman, musician, community leader and cultural educator – but his life had a common refrain.
He helped people, forging the bonds of Portland’s Chinese community.
Hui and his wife, Rosaline, founded the Portland Chinese Times newspaper and helped establish the city’s Jade District as a center of culture and commerce. The couple have also been instrumental in championing traditional art and music in Portland and in establishing the city’s annual Chinese New Year cultural fair.
Hui died of cancer on January 15. He was 66 years old.
“What makes him happiest, whether it’s his music programs, his events, the newspaper – the common thread for him is that it brings people together,” said his daughter, Elirissa Hui. “Everything he did was with his heart first.”
Born June 8, 1955, with the Cantonese name Chee Yan Hui, the future Portlander developed a love for music early on within a Christian community in Hong Kong. He opened his own music store at age 18 and majored in pipe organ music at Hong Kong Baptist University.
He met Rosaline Cheung in high school, where she often watched his basketball games with his classmates. Their relationship began after Charles Hui learned that his future wife practiced guitar and approached her, saying, “I can teach you.”
Sparks flew and the couple married in 1981.
“On the day of the funeral, many of his old friends – cousins, relatives – everyone said, ‘Without Charles, they wouldn’t know how to play music,'” said Rosaline Hui, his wife of 40 years and a member of long-time member of the Jade District Steering Committee.
The couple followed relatives to Southeast Portland in 1994, a time when the immigrant community kept in touch by posting notices in the windows of restaurants and shops in Old Chinatown. The Huis then moved to Gresham.
In 1997, they founded the Chinese-language weekly, which covers city and state news, with Charles Hui as editor and his wife as editorial director. The newspaper, a commercial printing press and a small television studio now occupy several offices on Southeast Division Street.
Over the years, Charles Hui has coached traditional drum teams, directed the Portland Chinese Children’s Choir at Portland Community College, and founded the nonprofit Portland Art & Cultural Center to preserve Chinese heritage for a new generation.
While he taught children many Chinese folk and pop songs, his own musical style embraced various genres. He often played jazz and Debussy on the piano, for example, and played guitar on Queen, The Eagles and other rock classics.
The third of four brothers, Hui’s family grew even larger in Portland. He and his wife had their two children, and the family was often joined by young people whose own parents worked long hours.
Big family meals involved booking a room for 20 people at Wong’s King Seafood, a restaurant that has rewritten the Chinese food map in Portland.
“He just likes to bring people together,” said his son, Jason Hui. “And, like, we also like to bring people together. In this way, he really conveyed his passion.