As the machines in the ICU loudly beeped, nurses pushed together the beds of Jean Lau Chin and Gene Chin. The couple extended their arms past tubing, held each other’s hands tightly, their eyes locked.
Hospital staff had kept the couple at opposite ends of the ICU for safety reasons. But on April 15, they brought them together for about 20 minutes to speak to their sons via videoconferencing.
That brief time as a family turned out to be their last.
The couple, who would have been married for 52 years in August, died 18 days apart from COVID-19. He died on April 25 at 79, and she on May 13 at 75, at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola.
Dr. Rajanandini Muralidharan, who treated the Chins, recalled it as a touching moment that was hard to witness.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “At that point, I thought that was the most humane thing and probably the most important thing that we could do for their children, aside from treating them medically.”
At the time of the call, one son, Stephen Chin, was in his parents’ Westbury home, cleaning in hope of their return.
“Seeing them on that video call was surreal,” said Stephen Chin of San Francisco. “All the doctors were wearing masks. They were hooked up. … It was hard to process that.”
But the scene only tells a small part of the Chins’ life together, starting when they first met in the summer of 1966 at a friend’s party.
Gene Chin was working full time and attending night classes in mechanical engineering at what was then the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.
Jean Lau Chin, born in Brooklyn on July 27, 1944, to Chinese immigrant parents with ninth- and sixth-grade educations, had just graduated from Brooklyn College. She would go on to earn her psychology doctorate at Columbia University.
What followed was a five-decade-long career that included serving as the dean of the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology at Adelphi University.
Her research focused on leadership, women, diversity and cultural competence, according to the American Psychological Association. She published numerous books, made hundreds of presentations and was the first Asian American psychologist to be licensed in Massachusetts where the Chins lived for 25 years.
In a 2006 oral history interview, Jean Lau Chin said the cultural framework in her study stemmed from her own experience of being asked to speak about Asian culture and psychoanalysis in one of her first talks.
“That was simply [based on] the fact that I was Chinese American,” she said then. “These kinds of experiences shaped a bit of who you become and the kind of work you do.”
Jean Lau Chin, who had navigated graduate school by trial and error with little mentorship, was known for advocating for women and people of color in the field and being a mentor to others.
Carolyn Springer, an associate professor at Adelphi, said Chin was down-to-earth and supported others to take up leadership roles.
“She took on leadership roles, and she always had to fight against people's stereotypes of an Asian woman,” Springer said. “People expected her to be a certain way, and she had to stand up for herself and really advocate for her competency and her ability to lead.”
Tracey Ong, Jean Lau Chin’s niece, remembered her aunt’s ability to balance out family needs and work demands.
“I looked up to her as this woman warrior,” said Ong of Manhattan. “She was a modern woman with old-fashioned values and beliefs.”
Jean Lau Chin was never close to retiring, her sons said, and her last published work was about the coronavirus pandemic and xenophobia, which appeared in Psychology Today in March.
“She loved what she did,” said son Scott Chin of Boston. “She never saw herself slowing down.”
Her husband Gene Chin, however, retired from engineering in the early 1990s and took up hobbies like photography and wood sculpting.
Born on Feb. 12, 1941, in China, Gene Chin was sent to help with his grandfather’s hand laundry business in New York when he was 11. One of Gene Chin’s proudest moments in life, his sons said, was helping his mother, brother and his family emigrate to the United States.
Scott Chin remembered his father as a “stubborn” man who worked hard to make life better for his family.
“He was very direct about what he wanted. He was loving to his family,” Scott Chin said, recalling telling his father during his final few hours in the hospital that “he [had] done a good job for being a good father … everything was going to be OK and that he could relax.”
The couple is survived by their sons and two grandchildren. A funeral was held May 22 in Boston.