Rose Pak, iconic San Francisco political activist, has died

pak

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Rose Pak, a prominent political activist in San Francisco, has died Sunday morning.

Pak passed away inside her home.

The 68-year-old was well-known as a power political broker in San Francisco’s Chinatown community.

“We are all in a state of shock, and profoundly sad, at this moment,” said Gordon Chin, a founder and former director of Chinese Community Development Center.

Chin spoke on behalf of Pak’s family and friends.

The San Francisco Medical Examiner and Pak’s physician determined she died of natural causes.

Pak recently received a kidney transplant in China.

Funeral services are planned for this weekend, beginning with a wake on Friday at the Green Street Mortuary from 7 to 9 p.m. Services will be held on Saturday at Old St. Mary’s Church from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a procession to Cypress Lawn Cemeteries and various remembrances and meals afterward, Yeung said.

“Rose Pak was a giant in the community, a giant in the history of this city,” Chin said. “She will be missed by everyone. But right now, it’s her close family and friends that are coping with this shocking news.”

Pak advocated for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to win the position in 2011. Lee became the city’s first Chinese-American mayor.

Speaking at a press conference in Chinatown today with former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown community leaders, Mayor Ed Lee today called her death “shocking.”

“Just last week she was telling me how healthy she felt, how important it was for her to get her health back, how she was looking forward to working with us on everything from public safety to public housing in Chinatown,” Lee said.

Lee, who met Pak more than 40 years ago when he was a law student working in Chinatown, said he was “blessed” by her leadership and support, even if they did not always agree.

“You can’t always be 100 percent in agreement with Rose but you can always know exactly where she is coming from,” Lee said. “That was the key to her influence and her ability to talk to everybody, her ability to talk straight.”

Lee said in a statement, “This is a great loss to the city as a whole, and the Chinese community in particular — a community that Rose served, supported and fought for, often fiercely, her entire adult life.”

Brown, too, noted that everyone who knew Pak had a disagreement with her at some point.

“But in the end there was one thing for certain, you always knew you were wrong,” Brown said. “She didn’t let you forget it.”

Others, however, remembered Pak’s softer side, noting that she was a kind woman who was quick to make sure everyone had enough to eat and a ride home after events.

“People know Rose as a political brawler, as the most astute advisor on how to get things done around the city,” said Malcolm Yeung, deputy director at the Chinese Cultural Development Center. “But Rose was one of the kindest individuals I ever met.”

Still, Pak’s favorite saying about politics, Yeung said, was “You always give a spoonful of sugar and then a mouthful of… I’ll just stop there.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has issued the following statement on Pak’s passing:

“San Francisco has lost a fearless advocate of the Chinese community with the passing of Rose Pak. She led an unwavering fight that stretched four decades to secure housing and vital services for poor and vulnerable immigrants. Rose never backed away from speaking truth to power, and she was a San Francisco icon. Her spirit will live on in the countless lives she touched and the many she inspired to continue to serve vulnerable communities.”

Supervisor Jane Kim issued this statement:

“I cannot imagine San Francisco without her. This is my first morning waking up to a San Francisco without Rose Pak. She is called a force of nature and yes, she wielded influence and power without money or any official position. But what is most misunderstood about her is what drove her. Yes, she is good at the “sport” of politics — she’s tough as nails and relentless in her advocacy. But she wasn’t driven by the sport, she was driven by her heart. She loved thoroughly and hard, she was so in love with her community, she could only work and fight with every inch of her body. She pushed and exhausted her heart every day.

What drove each call, fierce zinger, curse word was a deep-seated love rooted in every cell her body – for our fixed income seniors who live in SRO hotels, our immigrant families who survive on minimum wage incomes, and the merchants on Stockton Street who labor to succeed and serve Chinatown.

She fought for beautiful parks for our children to play in, she willed our new Chinese Hospital into existence, beam by beam, ensured a Central Subway for our many residents who don’t own cars and must take public transit, and she successfully achieved the monumental task of rebuilding Ping Yuen, Chinatown’s only public housing, now a reality against all odds. And she knitted so many of us together to ensure we all fought with her for the community.

As an Asian American woman, I am so lucky to be surrounded by women like Rose and my Mom – they are the strongest and most passionate women I know. They kick ass every day and never take a day off. She passed away in her home in Chinatown by the hospital she helped to rebuild because it served those who have the least amongst us. She already rests in power – Rose would not know any other way. She also rests in love. She gave her heart completely – she truly has left her heart in San Francisco.”

Flags are being flown at half-mast and City Hall will be lit up in white to honor Pak, whose Chinese name translates to White Rose, Lee said.

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