On Saturday afternoon, we were informed of the passing of the Chairman of PNG NRI, Sir Henry Chow. In this post, we pay tribute to Sir Henry, not only as the longest serving Chairman of the PNG NRI Council, but as a towering figure in the growth and development of Papua New Guinea.
The Chow family’s forefathers were peasant farmers of Guangdong Province in southern China.
In 1895, the colonial government of German New Guinea recruited Sir Henry’s great grandfather as a personal servant for one of its administration officers and the young man arrived in Rabaul to be soon followed by two younger brothers. Grandfather Chow, the son of the servant, was eventually given a piece of land on the west coast of New Ireland, where he established Olebo plantation and raised eight children.
One of these children was Gabriel Chow. In 1947, after the devastation of World War II, Gabriel started a small bakery in Rabaul selling bread and scones.
Gabriel Chow also had eight children – seven boys and a girl. Sir Henry was the second, born in 1933. From his bakery earnings, Gabriel saved enough for his children to be educated in Australia. Henry was in Australia from 1948 until 1958, where he studied at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, before learning his craft as a ship builder.
The Ship builder
Henry married in Australia and returned to Rabaul in 1958, establishing the Toboi Shipbuilding Company. The business grew quickly, expanded and prospered. Starting with eight local employees in 1958 over the next 14 years it built 170 vessels and increased its workforce to 120.
During that period, Sir Henry formed a joint venture with the Kambara Kisen (shipping) Company to build steel ships for the coastal trade in PNG and the South Pacific. But after building six vessels, the venture collapsed in 1971 due to lack of orders for steel ships.
In 1972 the shipbuilding side of the business was phased out but the Toboi Shipbuilding Company is still active in providing services to the coastal shipping industry and the fishing industry.
In 1974, Henry bought a small biscuit-making company called Lae Biscuit Company at Voco Point in Lae. “It was a very small factory, making a quarter tonne of biscuits a day,” he later recalled. In 2010, 36 years later, a new Lae Biscuit biscuit factory was opened to meet the demand for 150 tonnes per day.
A new, state-of-the-art factory will open in Lae later in 2017, further increasing the capacity of the business.
Today, the Chow family own, operate and manage a number of successful businesses in the major centres of PNG including engineering and machining, biscuit manufacture, smallgoods, fast food restaurants, real estate and plantations, fishing, logging and saw milling, and shipping.
A most recent investment, which Sir Henry was particularly proud of, was the MV Chebu, which was launched in 2014. The vessel provides safe passage for 370 people on the New Guinea Islands route from Buka, Rabaul, Kimbe and Lae.
The business group has 1,200 employees, who are all provided with access to a generous health care scheme, funded by the company.
Through his companies, Sir Henry was one of the most generous philanthropists in PNG. His companies sponsor or contribute to 26 sporting clubs, many churches and give generously to charitable organisations that assist people in need.
The Political activist
From a young age, Sir Henry showed a keen interest in politics. In 1962, aged 29, he was elected vice-president of Rabaul Chamber of Commerce. In 1964 he became a member of Rabaul Town Council, being elected Chairman in 1970, he served four years in the position. From 1970-75 he was national secretary of the PNG Local Government Association.
At the same time, Sir Henry was beginning to make waves in national politics, although he never sought elected office. He was a senior executive officer of the Peoples’ Progress Party (PPP) for 17 years from 1967-84 and was its national coordinator in three elections – 1972, 1977 and 1984.
For the past decade, Sir Henry was the business representative on the PNG NRI Council, and the Chairman of the Council. Bringing to the Institute the same acumen, skills and determination that generated his success in the world of business, Sir Henry played a pivotal role in transitioning PNG NRI from a semi-academic institution into a public policy think tank.
He also brought to PNG NRI the common touch that has been a hallmark of his business success. Sir Henry’s last visit to the Institute was in December 2016, when he hosted a Christmas BBQ for the workers constructing the Institute’s refurbished research building.
That building, and the PNG Knowledge Hub which it serves, is a lasting testament to Sir Henry Chow’s contribution to PNG NRI, and his commitment to the formulation and implementation of effective public policies in PNG.
For his long service to the people of PNG, he became an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) on Independence Day 1975 and on 1 January in the millennium year, 2000, he was promoted to Knight Bachelor. On the 6 March 2001, Sir Henry Chow became the Honorary Consul-General resident in Port Moresby of the Republic of Singapore. In recognition of his contributions to the people in the Southern Region of Guandong Province, in the Republic of China, Sir Chow was presented a Golden Medal.
Vale Sir Henry Chow. And thank you.