Francis Y. Kwong

Deceased: July 30, 2017

Service Information:

Visitation: Friday, August 4, 2017 5pm until 9pm
Memorial Services: Saturday, August 5, 3pm
Mass: Saturday, August 5, 10am at
Old St. Mary’s Church, 1500 S. Michigan Ave.


The mind of a scientist and the heart of a poet

As a scientist, philosopher, and dreamer, Francis Kwong had an uncommon blend of analytical brilliance and amazing creativity that gave him a unique perspective on the world.
“He had the mind of a scientist and the heart of a poet,” said Anna Ball, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer of Ball Horticultural Company, where Francis worked for more than 30 years.
Born in 1952 in southern China, a time of China’s land reform under the new government regime, Francis escaped with his parents and siblings to Hong Kong. Educated in the Catholic school system, Francis developed a strong sense of principles and values from a young age.
To pursue his passion for agriculture, he immigrated to the United States to attend college in 1969. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in Agriculture from Purdue University at only 26 years old. Unlike many others, however, Francis’ love of science was coupled with a love for philosophy and poetry. He spent hours reading Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, Greek classics, Adam Smith, among others. His curiosity was boundless, and the depth and breadth of his knowledge were phenomenal.
Upon receiving his doctorate, Francis took a role at Sluis & Groot in the Netherlands for more than seven years, working in vegetable seed production for the company around the globe. There, he developed an appreciation for Dutch, beer and travel.
He returned to the U.S. to work at Ball Horticultural Company in 1986. He established the firm’s seed production research department and helped shape its sustainable agricultural agenda. Under his dedicated steer over three decades, Ball Horticultural developed a reputation for exceptional seed quality and reliability.
In 2005, Francis edited with M.B. McDonald a comprehensive reference book Flower Seeds: Biology and Technology on the science and technology behind flower seeds.
“In many ways he was a pioneer in flower seed production,” said Ball. “During his distinguished career, he made many discoveries and developed new processes for seed production that helped the whole industry. He had immense respect from everyone in the company.”
He always remained a teacher at heart. Colleagues recall Francis as someone always willing to help others—from the plant breeders to production teams to operations people—tackle puzzling issues. Contiuned...


“This blend logic and creativity allowed Francis to solve business problems that others could not,” said Anne Lenventry, President of PanAmerican Seed, a subsidiary of Ball Horticultural.
Family members often came to Francis for life advice: where to go to school, how to find meaning, how to live well. The questions delighted Francis, who addressed the issues with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and humor.
Francis married his wife, Jennifer Hou (Jian Ping) in 1996, another immigrant to the U.S. from China. Together, they raised a family in the quiet suburb of Lisle. Over the years, they enjoyed long walks, vigorous games of racquetball and travelling around the world. They moved to Chicago’s lively downtown area in 2006, where they often enjoyed shows, museums, art, and reading with their book group.
Through it all, he never lost his love of meaningful words. He would spend long hours reading Leaves of Grass and contemplating life. He attended church regularly, explaining that it helped him connect with something larger than himself.
He passed away at 65 on July 30 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, after a battle with colon cancer. Francis is survived by his wife, Jennifer, his daughter, Lisa, two sisters, Agnes and Cecilia, and two brothers, John and Joe.
A public visitation will be held on Friday, Aug. 4, from 5-9 p.m., and memorial services will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Lakeview Funeral Home, 1458 W. Belmont Ave. In addition, a mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 5 at Old St. Mary’s Church, 1500 S. Michigan Ave.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in the name of Francis Kwong be made to Old St. Mary's Church.