Obituary: Rose Pak, activist for Asian American community

Community activist Rose Pak. Picture: AP/Jeff ChiuCommunity activist Rose Pak. Picture: AP/Jeff Chiu
Community activist Rose Pak. Picture: AP/Jeff Chiu
Rose Pak, a brash and lively community activist who helped transform San Francisco's growing Asian American population into a politically powerful constituency during an era when few women carried such clout, has died. She was 68.

Rose Pak died of natural causes in her home on Sunday. Friends and family said she seemed healthy after spending several months in China following a kidney transplant, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this week.

Pak never held elective office, but as the longtime consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce she helped raise money for preferred politicians and backed projects that benefited Chinatown’s residents.

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She hated being called a power broker. “If I was white, they’d call me a civic leader,” she said.

In 2011, Pak started a campaign that led to Ed Lee becoming the city’s first 
Chinese-American mayor. She would later call him an enormous disappointment.

“She was strong and fearless,” Lee told the Chronicle. “Whether she was right or wrong, she grounded herself in representing the community. She really wanted to make sure Chinatown as a whole was respected.”

Pak was born in Hunan, China, and fled to Hong Kong with her family as a child. She arrived in San Francisco in 1967, became a reporter for the Chronicle and covered the community she would later champion.

She was such an aggressive reporter that a lawyer ended up in court on battery charges after throwing a punch at Park during an interview. The 
lawyer called her “an enormously pushy person.” Pak countered that she “was trained to be persistent”.

Pak became an advocate as she became immersed in issues concerning the neighbourhood.

In the 1970s, she helped save Chinatown’s Chinese Hospital, an underfunded medical center for Cantonese-speaking poor. A few years ago she took over efforts to raise more than $100 million to rebuild the facility.

“I don’t know if I’m the best person, but someone had to do it,” she said.

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Pak was such an institution that 300 people, including Lt. Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom were on hand in May at San Francisco’s airport to greet her when she returned from 

She told the crowd that her doctor said she could live another 40 years. Pak said she only needed 15, including ten to rebuild a housing complex in Chinatown and five “to get even with the people who wished me dead”.

Copyright New York Times 2016. Distributed by NYT 
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