Former Hong Kong undersecretary for home affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai, tipped in 2012 to become the city’s first culture minister, died on Monday morning aged 44. It was understood she had been suffering from breast cancer and died due to complications from the disease.
Hui, a graduate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was appointed undersecretary in 2008 and reappointed in 2012. She left the government last year after a nine-year stint.
Before her public service she was head of business planning and development for northeast Asia at Standard Chartered Bank. During her career in finance she also served as secretary of the Hong Kong Association of Banks.
In 2012 Hui was tipped to become the minister for a new culture bureau proposed by then incoming Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying.
Leung had promised in his election manifesto to set up the bureau to promote the development of arts and culture. But his plan failed after filibustering by pan-democrat lawmakers.
In March this year, Hui was appointed a member of the board for the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
Current Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor extended her “deepest condolences” to Hui’s family and said she was “deeply saddened by her passing away at such a young age”.
“Hui was dedicated to serving the Hong Kong community,” the city’s chief executive said. “She was sincere and passionate about arts and culture and attached great importance to communication with the industry, earning the respect of those who worked with her both inside and outside the government.”
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The city’s No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said he was shocked and saddened at Hui’s death and had also sent his condolences.
“We were like a family in the time we worked together. Florence was a really easy-going and modest person, and as we all know, she was so amiable and dedicated to her work,” Cheung said. “This is a huge loss.”
Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah said: “Florence made an immense contribution during her service at the Home Affairs Bureau. Serving with zeal, she performed brilliantly while treating fellow colleagues in a friendly manner. The bureau is deeply saddened at her passing, and she will be remembered fondly.”
Lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who represents the city’s sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector, remembered Hui as friendly and gentle, and said she was always willing to listen.
“I feel sad because she was still young,” Ma said. “When she worked as an undersecretary, she was very responsible.”
Hui was a leading supporter of a campaign to set up an institute inside a historic building in the Mid-Levels in honour of late Chinese scholar Nan Huai-chin, who helped broker talks between mainland China and Taiwan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
By May this year the initiative had raised HK$20 million (US$2.55 million) towards the cause.
Liza Wang Ming-chun, chairwoman of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, said Hui had been very proactive in communications with her organisation on developing Cantonese opera.
“It’s such a pity that the culture bureau didn’t materialise,” Wang said.
Hui had been a responsible and capable official who sacrificed a great deal of private time for her work, Wang added.
Cultural critic Oliver Chou said: “She was one of the few officials who knew culture, high and low, and made unprepared speeches with grace and modesty.
“During her home affairs years, she was probably the only official I knew of who facilitated support for many local arts groups, and the absence of a cultural office did not affect her efforts to help the needy.”
In a statement issued late on Monday night, Hui’s family expressed gratitude to those paying tribute.
“Hiu-fai left us peacefully this morning. While we feel sad at her passing, let’s remember her joyful life,” they said.
“Her gentle character and willingness to help others will always be on our minds.”
Hui is survived by her husband and two daughters.