Stephen So of Wilmington, Delaware, passed away peacefully, with family at his side, on January 29, 2017 at the age of 86. Coming to America following World War II, he was the oldest son of a family of engineers who trained at MIT, Caltech and Duke.

Born in Hong Kong, Stephen came of age in a war-torn China. As the Japanese invasion advanced, the family moved to Dabu—a center of Hakka culture—not far from their ancestral village. He attended a Christian boarding high school in Guiyang, Guizhou province—one formed from eight Christian schools in Hunan and Hubei provinces—that was housed in a Buddhist temple. Here, students slept in front of a giant Buddhist statue. Following the war, the family returned to Hong Kong, but Stephen attended the prestigious Pui Ching Middle School in Guangzhou. Upon graduating, he went to Zheijiang University in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, for a year. With the Communist advance, he became one of many refugees returning to Hong Kong. Granted a student visa, he set sail for the United States aboard the S.S. President Wilson and made his way aboard a Greyhound bus from San Francisco, California to Atlanta, Georgia. There he became the first in his family to attend a U.S. university. He completed his undergraduate studies at Georgia Tech in three years and went on to earn his Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at MIT.

He would meet his beloved wife, Stella So, a Fordham University-trained social worker in New York City, and they would remain married for 57 years till her passing in 2013. In 1959, they would settle in Delaware, among the first here of a post-WWII generation of Chinese Americans. Fluent in several dialects, they were a bridge among different parts of the local Chinese American community.

For much of his career, he worked as a chemical engineer at FMC Corporation and contributed to the development of hollow-fiber technology and an absorbable collagen hemostat to stop bleeding. Arriving as an immigrant from war-torn China, he valued hard work and frugality—living modestly, saving and investing in his sons. He was extraordinarily industrious, seeking to impart this work ethic to his children. We have many fond memories of working together as a family. As one of his sons related from his childhood, “We watered the shrubs together, and Dad showed me the rainbow from the water from the garden hose.” And he was great in that way—helping us to find the rainbows in our lives. He was a wonderfully devoted father, who sacrificed unstintingly to ensure that each of his three sons received a college education.

Around the home, Stephen could fix most anything mechanical or electronic.
He instilled in his sons a love of science, and they lacked for nothing, from optics and electronics kits to a chemistry set. He indulged his sons’ hobbies, from collecting rocks and minerals to stamps. Whether it was building model rockets, taking his sons fishing, or soldering together an electronic metronome for the guitar player among us, he always found time. He was the master of the BBQ grill and the one who always prepared the Thanksgiving turkey and put up the Christmas tree. He took the family to England and Tijuana, Niagara Falls and Disneyland, Vancouver and Toronto, the civil war monuments in Virginia and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and excursions from the New Jersey beaches to crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Stephen was also an exceptionally devoted husband. Together Stephen and Stella were the perfect team—yin and yang—through life. They were an inseparable duo in their retirement—taking walks together, going to the local Chinese buffet for dinner, and frequently trekking together to their sons’ homes. Even from a wheelchair in recent years, he unfailingly paid daily visits to his wife when she no longer could be cared for at home in her final year of life.

Stephen So is survived by his three sons—Anthony, David and Richard. We will miss our father deeply, but know his spirit lies within each of us. And we trust that he is at peace, free of the pain and debility of the past few years, and reunited at last with our mother. Service and burial will be private. Messages of condolence may be sent to In lieu of flowers, please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Stephen and Stella So Memorial Fund, a donor-advised fund established in honor of our parents at the Triangle Community Foundation. Contributions can be made online at or by check, posted to Triangle Community Foundation, P.O. Box 12729, Durham, NC 27709.