Excerpt from Atlanta Journal-Constitution,  March 5, 2011 Obit.

There's a line in an old Chinese poem, the gist of which is that if one wants the best in Chinese cooking, one should eat Cantonese cuisine. That was Ngalan Tam Lee's specialty.

Mrs. Lee and her husband, James Soon Lee, came to Georgia from San Francisco in 1975 at the invitation of relatives already here who said there were very few Chinese restaurants in metro Atlanta and saw that as an opportunity to start one.

The Lees' first place, the Chinese Garden, was in Sandy Springs and was one of a handful of Chinese restaurants in the metro area. After three years, the Lees sold the Chinese Garden, then moved to Carrollton to help relatives run a Chinese restaurant there.

A year later, the Lees opened Hong Kong on Buford Highway in Doraville. Their son, Dr. Louis Lee of Roswell, said it was the first restaurant in the Atlanta area to serve dim sum, a snack-like dish that originated in south China.

After several years, the Lees sold that restaurant, and in 1987 opened the House of Lee Chinese Restaurant in Lithonia, which they operated for a decade.

"Mom and Dad worked from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., every day of the year except for major holidays," Dr. Lee said. "But each of them had a well-developed work ethic from childhood.

"Dad took care of the front, greeting customers and tending the bar, while Mom was the chef. She didn't have formal training, but she learned a lot about cooking from her family growing up in south China."

Her husband said Mrs. Lee was a friendly sort who periodically left the kitchen to mingle with diners and check to see if they were pleased with their meals.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time they would say they were very satisfied," he said.

Bo Giles of Gainesville said he was a teenager working as a dishwasher and observed Mrs. Lee's cooking mastery up close.

"She's the reason," he said, "that when I got my first apartment, the first thing I bought for it was a wok, so I could fix my own stir-fry dinners."

Another former dishwasher and busboy, Greg Hardy of Covington, said Mrs. Lee always treated him kindly, making sure he got his fill of sweat-and-sour this or sweet-and sour that, plus egg rolls.

Ngalan Tam Lee, 74, of Conyers died of pneumonia Feb. 24 at DeKalb Medical Center. Her funeral is 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Wages and Sons Funeral Home, Lawrenceville, with burial March 13 in Colma, Calif.

Mrs. Lee was born and reared in China's Canton state and was trained as a teacher of the Chinese language. In 1960 she acquired an exit visa to go live with relatives in Hong Kong, then a British crown colony. Four years later, she met her husband-to-be, who had immigrated to the United States years before and was back in Hong Kong for a visit. The two were wed in 1964 and settled close to relatives in the San Francisco area for about a decade before moving to Georgia.