A man of hard work and dedication

The Late Eddie Wong’s son Jilyin Wong during an interview in Lautoka. Picture: SUPPLIED

BECOMING one of the most successful business owners at a young age was no easy feat for Eddie Yan Kong Wong.

Co-owner of the popular Eddie Hin Beverages Ltd, Mr Wong was used to being in the public eye because of his philanthropic work with the Rotary Club.

He may have been born in China, Lautoka became his home at heart and he stayed in the Sugar City despite many Chinese families moving post-independence.

His son, Jilyin Wong, said his father was dedicated to Lautoka.

So much so that he was elected the first Chinese mayor of the city.

“My dad became quite involved with the local community, the Rotary Club and he was the first Chinese mayor, I think he served two terms, 1967 and 1968,” he said.

“He was also on the board of the then Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) and Civil Aviation Authority, the Lautoka Rural Health, on the board of Tilak High School and he was very community minded.

“When Fiji became independent, he was the first Chinese person to be appointed a senator so that was his role and at the same time, we still expanded the business.”

What made his commitment to Lautoka particularly important was the fact the community was especially close-knit. Mr Wong said Lautoka, in the old times, had a much better social life than it did now.

“Everything here shuts down at 6pm and in those days, after dinner, we used to go for car rides and my parents and all the kids and they used to drive around from Vitogo Pde and made a stop at the Chinese family shops.

“We’d stop, go in, have a chat, drive along, visit another family and those shops used to stay open until about 10pm. There was no worry about people coming in and trying to hassle them or steal, it was a very different time then.

“Everybody knew everybody in those days and it wasn’t just the Chinese, you had the Gujarati families too and this was the cobblers and of course the retail shops that sold sari and all that, they all knew each other.”

He said it was this kinship that drove his father to become a mayoral candidate.

“In those days, politics wasn’t really a political thing. No one went in for their own benefit and it was all about giving to the community.

“I’m talking in those days about people like Hari Punja, who was younger than my dad, and my father and then NK Naidu from the MN Naidu family and Gopal Naidu, all those people they all wanted to promote the community so there was no personal gain from it.

“When you’re taking on a role like that, you’re giving up a lot of personal time and you’re not paid, it’s all voluntary.

“My dad had fairly good English, I suppose. He didn’t speak a word of English until he came to Fiji but at the age of 21, he was young enough to pick it up and he did a lot of his own studies at night to improve and he spoke quite well in public.

“That was the reason he was asked to do it.”

After his father’s passing, Mr Wong said the business was left to the family.

“We made the decision that one of us would come to Fiji bring the business up to a point where we could sell it, we planned an exit strategy to come back work the business to a state we could sell it so that’s what we did.

“In 2004, we sold the soft drinks business to Tappoos because they had the Pepsi franchise and they wanted to bottle Pepsi in Fiji, prior to that they were importing them from New Zealand.

“I stayed on to help them through this transit period because they were traders but they had little experience in manufacturing and in 2010 when our ice cream distribution business came to an end we sold everything to Tappoos so I’ve stayed on as a consultant on a part-time basis and helping with the expansion plans.”

According to Mr Wong, he still believed his father would have been proud of Lautoka and the city it had become.

“He would have been very pleased to see this and to Tappoos’ credit, they recognised the value of the business Eddie Hin.

“They’ve retained the name but they recognise the contribution that my dad and uncle made which was quite significant so everything that’s manufactured comes under the Eddie Hin beverages brand.”

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