Wei Family

John Wei(卫高荣) | Our Family | Business


In Memory of my Good Friend Senator Harris Blake

K. John Wei


Three long months have elapsed since my good friend, former North Carolina state senator, Harris Blake, passed away on June 9, 2014 in his hometown located in Moore County , North Carolina . Although he left us forever, the numerous unforgettable episodes I shared with him always pop up in my mind and remind me of the memorable moments we both spent together. Perhaps, it is better for me to write down a short commemorative sketch and share it with the public. I think this is the best way I can do to demonstrate our collective respect to this statesman, a public servant, and a model citizen.

Senator Harris Blake lost his parents when he was very young. His successful entrepreneurship and brilliant career were the results of his own personal aptitude, hard-working spirit, and persistent endeavors. After his entrance into the realm of public service, he served as undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture of the Regan administration. He was a state senator of North Carolina and the Deputy Senator President Pro of the N. C. State General Assembly.  In total, he was a state senator for five long terms.

I got to know Mr. Harris Blake, when we handled the remains of an American hero, Robert Upchurch, who was a member of the world-wide famous Flying Tigers during World War Two.  About 70 years ago, when the Chinese army was fighting against the invading Japanese Imperial Troops in Guidong County , Hunan Province, an air war was going on simultaneously. The Flying Tigers, who were American pilots supporting Chinese national liberation, were fighting in air against the Japanese Air Force. Unfortunately, one American plane during the fighting crashed down and the pilot died on the spot.

The local people, Rentong Huang who was a farmer of Guidong County , Hunan province collected the remains of this American soldier and buried him near a pagoda with a hero burial. More moving was that every subsequent Qingming Festival, which is the festival during which the Chinese paid respect to their deceased relatives, the local people would come to the American hero’s tomb to pay respect, clean the surrounding, repair the tomb, offer food, and honor this unknown yet brave man who sacrificed his life to fight the common enemy of the two countries. To the locals, this man sacrificed his life to save the people of China . In 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense was relocating the lost U.S. soldiers and sent a working team to Guidong County where they found the remains which were ultimately brought back to the United States . After a DNA analysis, the remains were identified to be Robert Upchurch of North Carolina .

Around that time, Mr. Harris Blake was the State Senator of  North Carolina Genaral Assembly. To coordinate the return of this fallen hero, he sent his secretary Anna Kidd to the China Center of North Carolina in 2006. As the co-founders and Vice Chairman of the North Carolina China Center , I got the chance to meet Senator Harris Blake for the first time. In the following years, the NC China Center dispatched Professor Lian Xie (North Carolina State University) who was then the President (2006 – 2009) of the NC China Center to accompany Mr. Harris Blake to visit Guidong County, Hunan Province a few times to handle the issue. Through much work in coordination, the hero’s remains were transported back and buried in North Carolina on 4/8/2006 . For that, I also went to Guiding to meet Mr. Rentong Huang to promote bilateral friendship in 2008. Even after the remains were transported back to the United States , the grateful locals of Guidong still erected a new tomb stele to commemorate this long unidentified but now identified hero. With this special tie, Guidong County and Moore County miraculously became “sister counties.”

Ever since then, the NC China Center and the State general Assembly established a friendly working relationship. Every time when an important Chinese delegation visited North Carolina , I would bring the delegates directly to Mr. Harris Blake’s office for a particular meeting. With Mr. Harris Blake’s promotion and encouragement, Professor Lian Xie has founded the Carolina China Council. Indeed, to enhance the bilateral cooperation and mutual cultural exchanges between the United States and China are the ultimate goals of all us. With our common efforts for our common goals, our personal friendship was increasingly deepened.

On the personal level, Mr. Harris Blake and I developed profound trust and close friendship. When my first grandson JJ Wei was born in 2008, he and his wife Barbara Blake came to the big event held at Raleigh Cardinal Country Club to congratulate me for being a grandfather. They even attended the First Month Celebration of this new life and Chinese New Year as a tradition of Chinese culture. When his dear wife Barbara passed away in 2009, both my wife and I shared the sadness with him. Early this year ( 1/16/2014 ), I went to lay down flowers to his wife’s tomb. We walked with a cane around his wife Barbara’s grave and talked about sweet memories about his wife, which was an unforgettable moment. Just one week before the state election for governorship in North Carolina in October 2010, he particularly came and later introduced me to the new governor Pat McCrory. What moved me most was the fact that he was seriously ill at that moment. Throughout the past decade, we witnessed the many vital moments of our lives and encouraged each other in our public service and personal lives. I had never expected that I could make such a wonderful and devoted friend in my adopted country during my senior years.

Mr. Harris Blake had developed a deep friendship with the Chinese people. During his last years, he tried his best to support the cultural, educational, and economic cooperation between the two trans-Pacific nations. All of the expenses were from his pocket. He was a great statesman who befriended Chinese-Americans in the mainstream society and he was a true friend of Chinese-Americans. Even just before he passed away, he still cared about the bilateral ties between North Carolina and Hunan Province . He won the love and respect from local Chinese-Americans, because of his sincerity and his devotion.

On June 12, 2014, a special memorial service in his honor was held at Jackson Springs Church , North Carolina where the Governor McCrory and the State Senate Leader Phil Burger presided the service. The whole state lowered the flag half-mast to show condolence. The local Chinese-Americans mourned the loss of a great friend. For me, it was the highest admiration the American people, including Chinese-Americans, can display in order to reveal their respect to their beloved statesman who worked diligently and whole-heartedly to their welfare.

Nearly a decade has passed ever since I first met this great American; yet my memory of this wonderful friend remains fresh, vivid, and cloudless. I was much saddened by his passing and only wish my good friend rest peacefully in Heaven.