‘Strong and fearless’: Rose Pak, power broker of San Francisco’s Chinatown, dies at 68

Fiery and tenacious Rose Pak was a key player in electing the city’s first Chinese-American mayor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 11:02pm

An influential community activist who turned San Francisco’s Asian-American population into a political power in the city has died.

A friend of Rose Pak said she died of natural causes in her home Sunday morning. She was 68.

A former reporter who covered Chinatown for The San Francisco Chronicle, Pak eventually became an advocate as she became immersed in issues concerning the neighbourhood.

As the longtime consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, she helped raise money for her preferred politicians, backed projects that benefit Chinatown’s residents and helped make the neighbourhood a strong player in the city’s political world. In 2011, she started a campaign that led to Ed Lee becoming the city’s first Chinese-American mayor.

Lee called her death “a great loss to the city”.

“She was strong and fearless,” Lee said, adding that , who ordered city flags flown at half-staff in honor of Ms. Pak.

“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.”

Lee said he had ordered for the city’s flags to be flown at half-mast in honour of Pak.

Pak was born in Hunan province, where her father was a businessman. He died in the civil war, and her mother fled with the children to Hong Kong in 1952. At 17, she won a scholarship to a women’s college in San Francisco and earned a master’s degree in 1972 from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism in New York.

Fluent in English and Cantonese, with a shrewd understanding of the political ways on both sides of the divide, she became something of a gatekeeper for Chinatown, translating for city leaders who came to seek donations or discuss projects.

She was once described as “tenacious as a pit bull”. She was well known for her fiery temper and sense of humour.

A series of cryptic messages were posted on a Twitter account bearing Pak’s name after her death.

“Those who have sides against me in battle, remember this: I do not forgive or forget. My warriors hold senior posts and they will avenge me,” one of the messages read.