As a refugee, Mae Gam fled several times when the Japanese bombed her native China during WWII, and ran for her life at least once while warplanes loaded with explosives flew overhead.
Gam and her husband, the Rev. McAdow Gam, would later help refugees in China and those who fled as the Communist Party grew in prominence and established the People's Republic of China in 1949.
They built schools for refugee children who had no access to education, among other missionary work.
Gam, who spent the last 30 years of her life in Arden Hills, died April 2 of age-related health issues. She was 96.
"They were both truly very humble individuals, and I did not recognize all the things they did and contributed," Paul Gam said of his parents. "I am very proud of my family history for their service."
McAdow Gam died in 1989.
Mae Gam was born July 7, 1924, in Yeung-Kong (now known as Yangjiang) in Guangdong Province in southern China. She studied music and trained as a singer despite the ravages of WWII.
The Second Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan started in 1937 and merged with WWII, which ended in 1945, after Japan surrendered. Several million Chinese civilians died during the conflict.
Mae met McAdow Gam at a school concert in 1944; they married in 1946. The two worked as missionaries in association with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Tennessee, serving in China until 1949. Afterward, they served in Hong Kong, Macao and Cheung Chau Island.
"She and her husband … had an amazing life," said U.S. District Judge Tony Leung, a family friend. "They didn't take on the easy jobs."
People fled China for Hong Kong over several years as the Communist Party grew. Refugee children settled into seven-story concrete buildings with no access to public or private schools, said Paul Gam.
"They basically went to the top of these concrete buildings and built very simple schools" on the roofs, he said of his parents.
Paul Gam said his mother was humble and rarely spoke of her missionary work or her own refugee experience.
Mae and her husband retired to Nashville in 1982. She moved to Arden Hills in 1990 after his death.
Family and friends remembered her as a matriarch who loved to sing soprano at the Twin City Chinese Christian Church, watch tennis and drive fast.
"She always had a smile on her face," said grandson Matthew Gam. "She was always interested in how you're doing, made sure you were fed."
When grandson Kevin Gam visited churches in San Francisco and Hong Kong, parishioners asked after her because of her and McAdow's work.
"She was held in high esteem by people in the community," he said. "She was a very kind and loving person."
She also gave great advice, said Leung.
Leung was in his 30s and deciding whether to stay as a partner in a high-profile law firm or become a judge.
"She gave me really invaluable perspective by suggesting — she didn't tell me — she just suggested that I needed to decide based on what would give me the most fulfillment," Leung said. "Would it give you more fulfillment … practicing law and making more money, or, becoming a judge and serving the public?"
Mae Gam was preceded in death by her husband, son David and one grandchild. She is survived by children John Gam, Julia Hinton, Allen Gam and Paul Gam; eight grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.
Interment was in Nashville. A celebration of life is pending.