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Chinatown Actor and Activist Mourned at Funeral

By Serena Solomon | January 24, 2014 2:43pm
 Politicans, friends, family and film industry connections came to Paul J.Q. Lee, who died last Friday.
Paul J.Q. Lee
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CHINATOWN — Hundreds of mourners said their final goodbyes Friday to a Chinatown activist, businessman and actor who died of a heart attack last week.

The funeral service for Paul J.Q. Lee, 63, filled True Light Lutheran Church on Worth Street with politicians, family, friends and associates from across the city. The attendees described ways their lives were touched by Lee, a charismatic figure who was involved in the film industry, city government and Chinatown politics.

"Paul is the only one who could bring everyone in Chinatown together," said Lucy Yau, 40, who knew Lee for many years through the city's Chinese-American community.

"Look at the people here — there are African Americans, Asians, politicians, the military, people from the film industry," she added. "He was generous, kind, advocated for his community, fought for civil rights."

Don Lee, 50, who had known Paul J.Q. Lee for almost 20 years, fought alongside him on many local issues, including the economic fallout from the 2001 closure of Park Row and the federal government's abandoned plan to hold the 9/11 terror trials in a Lower Manhattan court.

"Nobody knows politics better than Paul," Dan Lee said of their work galvanizing the local community and lobbying elected officials.

Paul J.Q. Lee made an unsuccessful run for Democratic district leader in 2011.

His community connections began with his porcelain wares store Quong Yuen Shing & Co. at 32 Mott St. It was opened in 1891 by his grandfather, but by the time Lee closed it in 2003 due to an economic downturn, it had become more of community center, according to many at the funeral.

Lee was also an actor, landing minor roles in movies including "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Big." He developed a reputation as a go-to location scout for film companies looking to shoot in Chinatown.

"We all knew him as an activist, but he loved the arts," said Dan Lee.

For the last decade, Paul J.Q. Lee worked as a community liaison for the New York City Housing Authority, a role that took him all over the city.

"He would go so far and beyond what a city employee does," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who attended Friday's funeral. "He would help those [NYCHA] residents get the services they needed."

Brewer said she knew Lee from her time as councilwoman representing the Upper West Side, which has numerous public housing developments.

On Jan. 14, Lee suffered a heart attack during his morning subway commute to his job at NYCHA. He was in a coma until he died Jan. 18 at 6:15 a.m., according to Keith Leung, 30, who Lee mentored since Leung was a teenager.   

Lee is survived by a brother and a sister.

At Friday's funeral, members of a Brooklyn drum band who played as the coffin was carried out to the hearse said they, too, had been impacted by Lee.

Said McKenzie, 21, from the Brooklyn Express Drumline, said Lee has used his movie connections to get the band their first gig at the Tribeca Film Festival a few years ago.

"Most of our accomplishments are because of Paul," he said.