Tragic loss of local identity

COMMUNITY LOSS: Businessman and family partiarch Robert Leong died tragically during floods north of Brisbane on Friday.
COMMUNITY LOSS: Businessman and family partiarch Robert Leong died tragically during floods north of Brisbane on Friday. Contributed

FAMILY and friends of former Coffs Harbour businessman Robert Leong have spoken of their heartbreak after he drowned tragically in floodwaters north of Brisbane.

Mr Leong, 75, and his wife Anna, 68, became stranded when their car was swept into raging floodwaters off Beerburrum Rd near Caboolture at 4:30pm on Friday.

Mr Leong's family described the heroic efforts he made to save his wife by helping her out of the vehicle through the driver's window.

She was later rescued several hundred metres away where she was found clinging to a tree.

Mr Leong's body was recovered by emergency services early on Saturday morning.

His daughter Michelle said the family was grappling with the fact that he was gone.

"My dad couldn't swim, so once he was stuck in the floodwaters he was in trouble," she said.

"We're still trying to deal with the grief - we're just coming to grips with it.

"He was larger than life - he was a man who lived life to the full."

Born in China, he spent his early years in Sydney and Newcastle after his family immigrated to Australia in the 1940s.

In 1966, he settled in Coffs Harbour and opened the PhoenWong Restaurant, which he managed for 33 years.

Among Michelle's early memories of her father was when he introduced the smorgasbord to Coffs Harbour.

It had hungry crowds queuing along the street for a table.

"He was so well known in town and touched many hearts," Michelle recalled.

"He was a fantastic Chinese chef - he was always happiest when he was feeding people."

After his first wife Nancy died, Mr Leong remarried and he and Anna had worked side by side in the restaurant ever since.

"We lived above the restaurant and we all worked in the shop - it was a family business," Michelle said.

In 2000, they moved to Morayfield where Mr Leong managed the Phoenix Chinese Restaurant for 15 years.

But with retirement in his sights, he had plans to resettle in Coffs Harbour to enjoy time with his grandchildren.

Michelle said her father would be sadly missed by his extended family and wide circle of friends.

"We'll miss his beautiful smile, his love for life and his cooking - some of his recipes had been passed on through the generations," Michelle said.

He leaves behind three daughters, Laurence, Lenora and Michelle, nine grandchildren and two great-children.

Mr Leong will be laid to rest in Coffs Harbour.

Topics:  flood waters

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