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Mr. William Hockly Collom

Obituary for Mr. William Hockly Collom

July 3, 1929 - May 4, 2021
South San Francisco, California | Age 91

Loving Father, Husband and Grandfather


William Hockly Collom was born on July 3, 1929 in Hong Kong as the third child to Captain William James Collom and Ruby Mak.  His two older sisters were Winnie and Janet.   He attended Diocesan Boys School, but was disrupted through wartime and later switched to Wai Yan College and eventually graduated from St. Joseph College on Kennedy Road.

Bill, as he was preferred to be called, entered the Technical College in September of 1949 and obtained the Postmaster General's 2nd Class Certificate in Wireless Telegraphy in August of 1952, then set off to sea.  In 1955, he obtained the 1st Class Certificate in Wireless Telegraphy before returning to sea.  Bill served as a Radio Officer and later as a Chief Radio Officer onboard many commercial and passenger ships that plied the world for a decade.

In 1960, he joined Cable & Wireless Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, as Programme Technician in the Studios of Radio Hong Kong when he met the love of his life, Dora.  He married her in 1964 at Saint Paul's Church and eventually had three children.  

In January of 1962, he was hired as the seventh Immigration Inspector in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong and dedicated himself to the work wholeheartedly until he retired as Assistant Principal Immigration Officer at age 55 after 22 years of service. 

At home, he was a sensitive and caring husband and father.  While emphasizing the importance of education, he also made sure his children enjoyed and participated in sports activities.  He was an avid tennis player, enjoyed golf, ballroom dancing, water skiing, swimming and bowling. He had to give up riding his motorcycle when his wife gave him an ultimatum. He and his wife enjoyed entertaining and attending social events with their friends they made through the years.

In 1984, he moved to the United States and settled in South San Francisco, California.  He spent his retirement with his family, enjoying his grandchildren and videotaping their every move.  He was excellent at keeping in touch with his friends and colleagues from around the world and received "wall-fuls" of Christmas cards every year.  He loved traveling the Globe with his wife and friends.  He continued to play tennis until he was 82, annoying his tennis buddies with his drop shots.

Bill is survived by his wife of 57 years, his two elder sisters, his two daughters, his son and his two grandsons and two granddaughters.

Bill's Education & Career Backstory:

Bill treasured his education. Every time the topic of schooling came up, he would mention how his was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation. In that light, it is of paramount importance to describe his experience during the war years. In December of 1941, the British Governor surrendered the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to the Empire of Japan. Bill was twelve years old at the time. The occupying force soon imposed their own education system on the school children of Hong Kong. The Diocesan Boys' School (DBS), where Bill was a student, was commandeered by the Japanese Military. He bitterly recalled three years and eight months of suffering under the hands of the conquerors. He remembered starvation, and he remembered helping his family make ends meet by doing odd jobs wherever and however he found them. One job he took up was carrying Japanese passengers on the back of his bicycle to and from the horse-racing track in Happy Valley on race days. He said when he got lucky, he got paid for the ride, but when he was unlucky, he got a slap in the face as payment. It was also during these bike rides that he witnessed the carnage caused by Allied Bombings. He recalled seeing human parts strewn about the streets of Wanchai as he rode through.

He described other scenes that seem surreal now. He said the occupying Japanese considered his father, William James, too old to pose a threat so he was allowed to stay home with his family. One evening, Bill's family observed a squad of Japanese soldiers conducting door-to-door search of the neighborhood. His mother Ruby, ever the quick thinker under pressure, decided to "hide" her husband in the kitchen because it was the farthest room from the front door. Moments later, Bill described a young Japanese soldier charging through the front door, bayonet mounted on the tip of his rifle, screaming in Japanese as he charged into every room of the flat, obviously seeking blood. Bill then described a miracle. He said it was as if the soldier got tired of his own screaming rage, he ignored the door to the kitchen and walked out of the flat without another word.

There was also the time when he and his eldest sister Winnie walked by a Japanese military post and Winnie refused to bow at the sight of the building. Bill reminded Winnie to bow but Winnie defiantly said, "Just keep walking and pretend we don't read Chinese or Japanese!" To his horror, a Japanese soldier caught up to them and dragged them into the military post. They were ordered to stand in the post commander's office and wait for the commander to punish them. Bill's immediate thought was being executed at such a young age. After being detained for a few hours, Bill and Winnie were let go with stern warnings. Over the years, Bill expressed his deepest gratitude to Winnie for quitting school and keeping the family afloat during and after The War.

The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945. By that time, Bill was 16 years old and missed almost four years of British schooling. In April of 1946, Bill entered the Saint Joseph's College on Kennedy Road and finished his secondary school education in July of 1949. In a recommendation letter, the School Principal wrote this about Bill, "During his time in school his conduct was excellent; he was polite, obliging and co-operative. We take pleasure in recommending him for any post suited to his attainment."

Following secondary school, Bill entered the Technical College in September of 1949 and obtained the Postmaster General's 2nd Class Certificate in Wireless Telegraphy in August of 1952. After being at sea for three years, Bill returned to the Technical College and obtained his 1st Class Certificate in Wireless Telegraphy in March of 1955 before returning to sea. Upon Bill's graduation, the Principal at the Technical College wrote, "Mr. Collom is a man of pleasant personality and was well liked by the staff and his fellow students. His attendance was excellent and his conduct unexceptionable. He is always cheerful and polite, and I am glad to recommend him."

Bill's world-travelling ambition came to fruition as he served as a radio officer on board many commercial and passenger ships that plied the world for a decade. Of all the destinations, his fondest memory was by far in Seoul, Korea. In his last post as a sailor, Bill served as the Chief Radio Officer onboard the passenger ship Taipoohong from October of 1958 to May of 1960. Upon Bill's resignation, the Manager at the Shun Cheong Steam Navigation Company wrote, "During his (Bill's) period of service, he has always been sober, hard-working and conscientious, and we have no hesitation to recommend him to anyone requiring his services."

In June of 1960, Bill declared his wish to remain on land by writing a letter to the Director of Manpower in Hong Kong, "This is to inform you that I have recently returned to the Colony for an indefinite stay. At present, I am employed by Cable & Wireless Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, as Programme Technician in the Studios of Radio Hong Kong." Bill met the love of his life Dora during his two years' service at the Cable & Wireless Company.

In 1961, Bill decided to seek a government career with a defined upward career path and a pension. He secretly wished to be a Marine Department Lighthouse Keeper, but he knew he couldn't raise a family on many of the barren rock islands that lighthouses in Hong Kong were located. On August 4, 1961, Bill turned-down a job offer from the Civil Aviation Department, "I regret that I am now not in a position to accept your offer, as the initial pay is rather low." On the same day, Bill delivered his application to the newly established Immigration Department (established August 4, 1961). He answered an advertisement published in South China Morning Post under Hong Kong Government Vacancies. The advertisement read, "Immigration Inspectors in the Immigration Department, Pensionable (on probation in the first instance). Salary: $930-$1845 per month by 15 increments. Qualifications: Preferably 25-35 years of age; Hong Kong English School Certificate or Hong Kong Chinese School Certificate with a credit in English; or equivalent; fluent spoken Cantonese and good written English and Chinese; knowledge of other Chinese dialects an advantage; experiences in a supervisory capacity in a disciplined force or Her Majesty's Forces; sound physique. Duties: General duties in connection with the enforcement of immigration laws of the Colony. Supervision of the work of subordinate staff."

On November 29, 1961, the Director of Immigration extended the job offer to Bill. On January 2, 1962, Bill resigned from the Cable & Wireless Company and became the seventh Immigration Inspector in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Prior to the establishment of the Hong Kong Immigration Department in 1961, an arm of the Hong Kong Police handled immigration matters. At 32 years old Bill felt, and he was proven correct, that he would have a better chance of gaining new experience and climbing the career ladder in a newly established department rather than in the "Old Boy's Network" of the century-old colonial police force.

Bill threw himself upon the Immigration Department wholeheartedly. He considered the department his second family. He held the positions of Immigration Inspector, Senior Immigration Inspector, Chief Immigration Inspector and Assistant Principal Immigration Officer (Superintendent) in his 22-plus years of service. He fondly recalled being the post commander at the Lo Wu Control Point and Kai Tak International Airport, his stints at the Immigration Headquarters, his long nights in Investigations, his days on the Immigration launch (and the fresh seafood), the parties, the mess food, the inspectorate housing in Fanling, and he not-so-fondly recalled being the post commander at the Victoria Prison (he did like his parking spot inside the Central Police Station Compound though).

In 1967, Bill served as the post commander at the Lo Wu Control Point where he oversaw the busiest point of entry into British Territory from the People's Republic of China (PRC). 1967 was also the year of the Hong Kong Riots. Between 1967 and 1968, Bill oversaw the repatriation of British diplomats from the PRC to Hong Kong, U.K. In a news article published by the South China Morning Post, Bill was photographed standing behind a British diplomat who reunited with his wife. Behind Bill was the Union Jack waving in the wind above the train station's canopy while the Red Flag of the PRC waved in the wind on the other side of the canopy. Bill loved that post and he loved the inspectorate housing in Fanling where his daughters were born.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bill was the post commander at Kai Tak International Airport. Over the years, he couldn't hide his smile every time he talked about that post. He met people of all walks in life at the airport, but his greatest entertainment came from people who were television/movie stars or people who thought they were stars. He enjoyed that post and the camaraderie there so much, he was always at the airport whether he was needed or not!

Over the years, Bill fought for equality with white Expat Immigration officers. His earliest victory on that front, and the one which brought the biggest smile on his face in retirement, was when he fought the department over leather briefcases embossed with the officer's initials. Those briefcases were only issued for free to arriving Expat officers and the local hires had to buy them. Bill thought that was fundamentally wrong, and against the advice of his immediate boss, Bill petitioned the department to issue those briefcases to all officers. The battle took months, status quo was challenged, careers were jeopardized, protocols were broken, but in the end the department issued local officers those embossed briefcases for free also. Bill made a few career-enemies but gained a lot more friends and respect during that fight.

Bill didn't talk about his job at the Immigration Department too much but he talked about his cohorts constantly. He made many many lifelong friends in the short 22 years he was at the department. He deeply respected everyone's friendship, talents and dedication. He spent a significant portion of his retirement keeping up with old friends and colleagues at the Immigration Department which he affectionately called, "Immigration." He welcomed Immigration retirees to America whenever they visited or emigrated. When Bill visited Hong Kong, he would spend more than half his vacation having tea and following up with "Immigration People." Ten years after Bill's retirement, it was very clear to his family that Immigration was not just a career to Bill, but a lifestyle that defined his retirement.

In 2018, Bill's son had the honor of attending the Immigration Department Retiree Annual Dinner in Hong Kong. To his son's surprise, table after table, the attendees recognized him as "Collom-Sir's son," even though they have never met. In their recollection of Bill, the recurring theme echoed what the Principal at Saint Joseph's College, the Principal at Hong Kong Technical College, and the Manager at Shun Cheong Steam Navigation Company have written about Bill prior to his service at the Immigration Department, "(Bill's) conduct was excellent; he was polite, obliging and co-operative…Mr. Collom is a man of pleasant personality and was well liked by the staff and his fellow students. His attendance was excellent and his conduct unexceptionable. He is always cheerful and polite…During his period of service, he has always been sober, hard-working and conscientious, and we have no hesitation to recommend him to anyone requiring his services." Some things never change.

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Message from the Family

We would like to express our sincere thanks to each of you for the love, prayers and support you have given us. May God's peace be with you all.

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