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Anthony J. Wong, retired Philadelphia police chief inspector and Chinatown civic leader, dies at 93

Mr. Wong retired from the police force in 2003 as the highest-ranking officer of Asian American descent. He was a founder of Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp.

Retired Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Anthony J. Wong, who served on the city's police force for 50 years and also worked with civic groups in Chinatown.
Retired Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Anthony J. Wong, who served on the city's police force for 50 years and also worked with civic groups in Chinatown.Read moreCourtesy of the Wong family

Retired Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Anthony J. Wong, 93, of Northeast Philadelphia, who served on the police force for 50 years, died Wednesday, Sept. 8, at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Meadowbrook, Montgomery County.

Mr. Wong retired from the police force in 2003 as the highest-ranking officer of Asian American descent, said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. (PCDC).

He joined the department in 1953 after serving in the U.S. Army. At the time, he was the only Chinese American officer on the force, his family said.

“He was something to aspire to in the Chinese American community,” Chin said. “All the elders in the community knew him and knew of him.”

Mr. Wong was a founding member of PCDC and was executive director emeritus. He also was on the board of the On Lok House, an apartment building for low-income senior citizens.

“He was very faithful to Chinatown,” said Cecilia Moy Yep, the PCDC founder. “He was active in the meetings, particularly on the On Lok House. That was his baby.”

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. was founded in 1969 after the Chinatown community, in 1966, began fighting plans to demolish Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and School to build the Vine Street Expressway.

Mr. Wong was a police captain then and could not join street protests, but he attended meetings and offered his expertise. “He was respected,” Yep said.

“Tony is part of a closing chapter in the progress of Chinese Americans in Philadelphia and the generation that saved Chinatown from the Vine Street Expressway,” Chin said. “He will be missed.”

Mr. Wong was born in Philadelphia on April 17, 1928, the only child of Chinese immigrants who owned a restaurant in Chinatown.

After high school, he joined the Army and served in the World War II Occupation Forces in Europe. He also served in the Korean War, his daughter, Ana Mai Wong-Trainor, said.

In the Army, he served in counterintelligence, as an interrogator, a translator, and in the military police.

World War II had just ended when Mr. Wong was assigned to Germany. However, soldiers in the occupation forces could still encounter some fighting.

One incident in particular persuaded him to study foreign languages, Wong-Trainor said, and he became fluent in German and Russian.

That incident occurred while his unit was on a security patrol in Germany. American soldiers encountered a group of Soviet Union soldiers, also part of the Allied Occupation Forces there, but couldn’t communicate with them because of the language barrier and nearly engaged in conflict.

Wong-Trainor said her father tried German and some high school French, but neither worked.

“Finally an international patrol came along and saved the day,” she said. “He vowed at that point he would learn Russian.”

Mr. Wong attended the University of Vienna in Austria, the Fels Institute of Local and State Government at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Universal School of Languages and Translation Bureau.

He taught criminal justice, criminal investigation, and laws and procedures at the Community College of Philadelphia. He also used his German language skills to help Jewish concentration camp survivors who relocated to Philadelphia.

In the Police Department, he served in narcotics, vice enforcement, and patrol.

He twice led the Training Bureau and commanded the Community Relations Division and the Patrol Bureau, which included emergency planning. His last assignment was as commanding officer of the Police Training Bureau at the Police Academy.

As one of the first Asian Americans on the Philadelphia police force, Mr. Wong did not dwell on any racial slights, Wong-Trainor said.

“He didn’t emphasize discrimination. He believed you needed to do everything in your power so you’re not denied. So that you’re the best.”

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Wong his survived by a son, Anthony Wong Jr., three grandchildren, and one great-grandson. His wife, Dorothy, and stepdaughter, Bonita Mariano, died earlier.

A viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Rd., Philadelphia, Pa. 19154.

Another viewing will take place from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17, at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Upper), 3000 Cottman Ave., in Philadelphia, followed by a Funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Wong’s name may be made to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., 301 N. Ninth St. Philadelphia, Pa. 19107; the On Lok House Inc., 219 N.10th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19107, or the FOP Lodge #5 Survivors Fund, 11630 Caroline Rd. Philadelphia, Pa. 19154.