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Hyundai’s Cornerstone Passes Away

Posted August. 18, 2007 03:03,   


Byeon Jung-seok, the wife of Chung Ju-young, the late founder of Hyundai Group, died yesterday at the age of 86 from a chronic illness at 9:45 a.m.. She had been hospitalized due to heart disease at Seoul Asan Hospital in Pungnap-dong, Songpa-gu since 1990, and her condition rapidly deteriorated from the morning of August 16.

She was born in Tongcheon, Gangwon Province in 1921, and she was 15 when she married the late chairman of Hyundai, who was six years older than her, in January 1936. She later gave birth to and reared eight boys and one daughter, and became an important pillar of the Hyundai Group.

She made few public appearances and handled all of the family’s affairs including marriages of faraway relatives. When the late chairman used to teach his children to be industrious, frugal and the core principles of managing enterprises, Byeon used to tell her female relatives, including her daughters-in-law, “Always be careful and modest,” at 3:30 a.m. while preparing breakfast for the family.

She used to say, “A sewing machine from my husband and a big pot” are all I have, showing how simple a life she led. Many people remember her from stories: she brought her groceries back home in a delivery vehicle from a traditional wholesale market, not in the car chairman Chung got her; how her houseguests mistook her for her maid because of her plain clothes.

She was compassionate toward her daughters-in-law. For instance, when the late Chung, who was a proponent of harsh Confucian discipline, scolded his daughters-in-law when he saw them driving their children to school, Byeon told him, “You shouldn’t talk to them about what they do for their children. Let them teach their children in their own way.”

This is one of the reasons her daughters-in-law willingly took care of her for almost a decade when Byeon fell ill. Even Chung, who hardly praised anyone, said this about his wife in his autobiography, “She wears plain clothes and doesn’t talk much, but I respect her because she has always been there for me for the past 60 years. When I think of her, I think of someone I can always count on, helping me quietly.”

He also wrote in his book, “I can’t thank her enough when I think about all the hardships and difficulties she endured without a word of complaint, and she managed to be a great homemaker.” This shows that she was the spiritual leader of the Hyundai family.

Her bereaved sons and daughter - Hyundai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong-koo, Hyundai Department Store Group honorary chairman Chung Mong-geun, lawmaker Chung Mong-joon, Hyundai Marine and Fire Insurance Co. chairman Chung Mong-yoon, Hyundai Finance Co. chairman Chung Mong-il, and Chung Gyeong-hui, the wife of Chung Hui-yeong, the chairman of Sunjin Shipping & Air Cargo Co., - will be at the funeral. A lying-in-state room has been set up at the Seoul Asan Hospital and only family members, at the request of the economical Byeon, will attend the funeral. Floral tributes and monetary gifts will not be accepted either. A funeral service will be held at Seoul Asan Hospital at 7 a.m. on August 21. Her final resting place will be the family graveyard on a mountain in Changwoo-ri, Hanam, Gyeonggi Province.