At 101, Tak-fu Hung was the oldest of 40 North Bay residents killed by in the October wildfires that claimed 24 lives in Sonoma County.
Born in a rural part of China’s Anhui Province in 1915, Hung witnessed many political, cultural and social revolutions in two continents over his century in the world.
As a young man, he fought with the Kuomintang with the rank of general in the war against Mao Zedong’s army until a Communist victory drove him and his allies out of the country, family members said.
During a brief stay in Hong Kong, Hung met and married his first wife, Lijan Ho. They moved to Taiwan, where Hung would pursue a career in civil engineering and raise a growing family. Ho was 46 when she died, and the widowed father met and married Helen Hung, to whom he was married 46 years.
They moved to San Francisco in 1978 with the youngest of their brood, which by then included six boys and a daughter, O’Hara. The older siblings, though raised in Taiwan, found their way to North America to attend school and earn graduate degrees.
Hung, the patriarch, was dearly loved by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and enjoyed taking center stage during family gatherings, often held at the house in Fountaingrove lost in the fires.
“Conversations revolved sort of around him,” Rosanne O’Hara said. “He was really good at commanding a room.”
Hung and his wife, Helen, got only as far as the front door before he concluded he would be unable to proceed into the firestorm outside their Hanover Place home in the early hours of Oct. 9.
He sent his wife on alone, hoping she might somehow survive the flames. Healthy and fit, he had recently begun using a cane and knew he wouldn’t make it through the inferno.
“He told her, ‘Just go,’” Rosanne O’Hara said by phone from San Francisco, describing her grandfather’s last moments.
“Impossible,” his daughter, Annie Yen O’Hara, later recalled her father having said to his wife at the time. “Everywhere, fire.”
His burned remains eventually were found in the charred rubble of the hillside home he and his wife had occupied for about 10 of their nearly 20 years in Sonoma County.
Helen Hung suffered multiple burns but survived the fire and was recovering in a skilled nursing facility, haunted by what happened. She lay alone on the hot pavement for five hours before successfully reaching someone who could help, family members said.
The tri-level house where the couple lived was where Annie O’Hara and her husband had planned to spend their retirement.
In the meantime, it was the family’s gathering place, big enough to hold Hung’s six children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
In the wake of the fires, an assortment of bouquets and potted plants have been left at the homesite by those wishing the family well.
On Nov. 25, on what would have been his 102nd birthday, friends and family members celebrated Tak-Fu Hung’s life at a service in San Francisco.
“My dad liked a party,” Annie O’Hara said before the occasion.