Li-Chieh “Li” Szema, 88 years, died Nov. 16 at Millennium Memory Care in Holmdel.
Born Jan. 3, 1930 in Hunan, China to the late Hsiang Shin Szema and C.Y. Lee, he was the youngest of five children and was predeceased by his three brothers, Li-Wan “Yung Pien,” Li-Wu and Li-Gin, and his sister Li-Chen.
Li fled to Taiwan in 1948 on a ship with his oldest brother’s family during the Communist Revolution and served in the Taiwanese Air Force before graduating from Taiwan Provincial Cheng Kung University. He came to the United States and earned master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University and applied mechanics from Drexel University and attended Columbia University. In New York City he met and married his wife of 54 years Alice Hsiu-Yun Liu, a doctoral student at NYU, June 6, 1964.
Li started his family in Endicott, New York and worked for IBM, the Franklin Institute, Westinghouse, and retired at the age of 70 from General Electric as a senior mechanical engineer, having worked in both the Schenectady, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio locations. He held patents pertaining to the design of gas turbines used to provide electricity in Dublin, Ireland, and jet engine turbines for aircraft. When flight 587 crashed Nov. 12, 2001 in Far Rockaway, Queens, GE called Li out of retirement as a consultant; he determined the cause of the crash was turbulence from the wake of another plane.
A proud “papa,” he relocated to Long Island (Mount Sinai, Commack) to be closer to his family. He enjoyed basketball, singing, ballroom dancing, taking long walks and swimming with his grandchildren. Li was a poet and commissioner of a rare Huang Junbi painting and cultivator of the Tan Hua flower as depicted in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” He had a fondness for bananas, vanilla ice cream, spicy food, loose leaf tea, handkerchiefs and wore an expert necktie. He is remembered for always sharing his food and his loud voice which softened when he was with his beloved grandchildren.
Li and Alice endowed the Szema Yung-Pien Scholarship Award, in honor of his eldest brother who was Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Education in Taiwan. The annual award is presented to a top student during Stony Brook University’s School Of Medicine commencement. They also endowed a mentoring award at Gettysburg College and a scholarship at Albany Medical College.
Li is survived by his wife Alice, of Holmdel; children, Dr. Anthony Szema (Dr. Denise Monte) of East Setauket, New York and Dr. Katherine Szema (Dr. ChongMin Kim) of Shrewsbury; grandchildren Preston and Grant Kim and Allison and Austin Szema; and numerous nephews and nieces, grandnephews and nieces, and great-grandnephews and nieces.
Private funeral services were held Sunday, Nov. 18 at Thompson Memorial Home, Red Bank.
Memorial donations in memory of Li may be made to The Stony Brook Foundation, Szema Yung-Pien Scholarship Award, School of Medicine, P.O. Box 1511, Stony Brook, NY 11790-0590.