Wally Kwok 郭慧德

Boxing Captain, Bon Vivant and Investor

By York Lo

 

We-Te Kwauk, Technique 1927, 91.

Walter Kwok (1906-1990)

or KWAUK We-Tuh, Mandarin pinyin Guo Huide (Class of 1927, Engineering Administration), commonly known as Wally Kwok to his family and friends, was born in Sydney, Australia in 1906. His father George KWOK Bew (郭標,1868-1932) migrated to Australia at the age of 15 and made his initial fortune in importing and exporting fruits alongside his kinsmen from Heungshan (now Zhongshan) in Guangdong province. The import-export business blossomed into a modern business empire in China which spanned department stores, hotels, insurance, banking, and textiles under the name of Wing On (“eternal peace”) and the whole family moved to Shanghai in 1918 when Kwok Bew was made the head of its operations in the city.

Wally studied at St. John’s University in Shanghai before coming to MIT. Although Wally was physically short, he was extremely athletic, and while he was a student at MIT he took up boxing. Joining the freshman team, then the varsity team sophomore year, Kwok became the college lightweight champion and MIT boxing team captain his senior year, and competed in matches against Annapolis, Harvard and Princeton. Kwok also participated in various other sports including cross-country and soccer. A "Wearer of the T,” Kwok was a member of the Varsity Club and the MIT Athletic Association. He was also a member of the MIT Cosmopolitan Club, and was initiated into the FF Fraternity, the oldest Chinese fraternity in the US, in 1924. Among FF brothers he was known for his "wit, physical ability, and warm personality," in addition to his popularity with the girls.

In 1927, Kwok graduated from MIT with a B.S. in Engineering Administration with his thesis “An Investigation of Certain Physical Effects in Rayon during Drying.” He returned to China to join the family business but also served as an engineer of the Central Mint, which his father was placed in charge of in 1928. Outside of work, Kwok continued to box in Shanghai and was one of the leading Chinese amateur boxers in town. From 1930 onwards, he had participated in a number of high-profile exhibition matches against opponents such as Billy Tingle, the famous English boxer and sports trainer in Shanghai and later Hong Kong. He was also active in many other sports such as hunting, polo, tennis (he opened one of the few for-profit tennis courts in old Shanghai) and softball (he and his brothers formed one of the first female softball teams in China). Kwok remained active with MIT alumni, and in 1929 served as Secretary of the Technology Club of Shanghai. He was also an active member of the FF Fraternity China Chapter, becoming Secretary of the Shanghai Lodge and well-known for his dedication to the organization.  

Wally Kwok (center) with his sisters Daisy (left, wife of YH Woo, MIT Class of 1923) and Elsie (former Miss Shanghai), 1934. Courtesy of Leonard Woo (Wally’s nephew) – special thanks to Diane Woo and Julian Suez in reaching out to Leonard. 

Wally Kwok (center) with his sisters Daisy (left, wife of YH Woo, MIT Class of 1923) and Elsie (former Miss Shanghai), 1934. Courtesy of Leonard Woo (Wally’s nephew) – special thanks to Diane Woo and Julian Suez in reaching out to Leonard. 

Back row left to right: YL Chang (longtime banker at the World Bank), Wellington Koo (Chinese diplomat), Wally Kwok, JT Chu (chairman of Shanghai Commercial Bank), Mrs JT Chu, Mrs. Wellington Koo (Juliana Yen), TC Hsu (longtime head of Starr Foundation), Jane Wen (niece of diplomat Alfred SK Sze and wife of Dr YC Wen). Front row left to right: Aileen Pei (stepmother of I.M. Pei), Julie Kwok (wife of Wally) Shirley Young (daughter of Mrs Koo, former GM executive and Committee of 100 member), Joan Chu (daughter of JT Chu), ca. 1980. Courtesy Leonard Woo.  

Back row left to right: YL Chang (longtime banker at the World Bank), Wellington Koo (Chinese diplomat), Wally Kwok, JT Chu (chairman of Shanghai Commercial Bank), Mrs JT Chu, Mrs. Wellington Koo (Juliana Yen), TC Hsu (longtime head of Starr Foundation), Jane Wen (niece of diplomat Alfred SK Sze and wife of Dr YC Wen). Front row left to right: Aileen Pei (stepmother of I.M. Pei), Julie Kwok (wife of Wally) Shirley Young (daughter of Mrs Koo, former GM executive and Committee of 100 member), Joan Chu (daughter of JT Chu), ca. 1980. Courtesy Leonard Woo.  

In 1932, Wally married Julie Pan, the daughter of PAN Ching-po, the comprador of the British merchant house of Jardine Matheson in a high profile wedding attended by WU Te-chen, the Mayor of Shanghai and ES Cunningham, the US Consul General in Shanghai. Together they were a very sociable couple and their names could often be found in the society pages of old Shanghai newspapers in the 1930s, mingling with foreign taipans like John Keswick and Victor Sassoon as well as Chinese political and business elites like the Soongs and the Kungs at various social and charity events. Kwok was also a lifelong friend of fellow FF Fraternity brother and famous diplomat Wellington Koo.  

After KWOK Bew died in 1932, Wally and his three brothers (Percy, Leon and George) inherited his stakes in the various Wing On entities and were also active investors and brokers in real estate, foreign exchange, commodities and stocks. In 1941, Wally was listed as a broker on the Shanghai Chinese Merchant Stock Exchange. Wally also had four sisters, one of whom, Daisy Kwok (the central figure of the book Shanghai Princess by Chen Danyan) married another MIT alumnus Yu-Hsiang WOO (吳毓, Class of 1923, Electrical Engineering), who taught at Tsinghua and was proprietor of Transmarina Scientific Suppliers in Shanghai.

After 1941, Wally and his wife moved to America where they resided at 969 Park Avenue in New York City. They were active investors and Wally specialized in trading cotton futures. They also lived in Hong Kong, where Wally was chairman of Parker Distributors (HK) Ltd, the exclusive distributor of Parker Pens in the colony, founded by his half-brother Yat-Sun KWOK. Walter Kwok died in Maryland in 1990. 

Several other members from a different branch of the Kwok family, Philip Chi-kuen Kwok (Class of 1961, Physics, SE ’95, Harvard PhD. Physics), Benjamin Chi-bun Kwok (Class of 1964, Electrical Engineering and SM 1966) and Arthur Chi-shun Kwok (Class of 1966, Architecture) also later attended MIT.


Sources:

Technique 1927, 91.

“Chinese US Captain” The China Press, March 9, 1927

“Many Chinese Boxers Win Fame Abroad – Two has Captained Teams in US Universities” The China Press, March 11, 1927.

http://memoire.digilib.sh.cn/SHNH/photo/tp_detail.jsp?rowid=22270

“Popular Shanghai Couple Married in Trinity Cathedral” The China Press, Oct 2, 1932

“Death Takes Department Store Owner” The China Press, Jan 4, 1932

“Walter Kwok to Meet Tingle in Exhibition Bout” The China Press, August 28, 1930

上海人名錄(1941)

http://www.shtong.gov.cn/node2/node2245/node4455/node13485/node13555/node60880/userobject1ai15226.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=UI3_-7dMPIoC&pg=PA460&dq=%22Wally+Kwok%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwinrtn_6KjRAhWDTCYKHQOcDsQQ6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=%22Wally%20Kwok%22&f=false

MIT Chinese Students Directory: For the Past Fifty Years, 1931.

Wan, Edward I. 2003. History of F.F. Fraternity: Evolution of the First Chinese Fraternity in the United States (1910-2002) = [Ji lan]. U.S.A.: s.n.], 54.

Victor Zheng, Chinese Family Business and the Equal Inheritance System: Unravelling the Myth, Routledge, 2009.