Calling Rose Pak, who died Sunday, an activist or community advocate doesn’t begin to describe her decades-long role in turning Chinatown and the city’s fast-growing Asian American population into a political power in the city. Here, she speaks alongside Mayor Ed Lee at Chinatown's Ping Pong Tournament in August 2012. 📷: Sonja Och #RosePak #SanFrancisco #SF #Chinatown #SFpolitics #SanFranciscopolitics #powerbroker #obituary #RIP #RIPRosePak
Pak was born and raised in Hunan, China, moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s. While she never held an elected position, she was well known as a keystone member of the Chinatown community, helping bringing the Asian-American population into positions of political power in San Francisco. Pak was a fearsome force to behold, known for being tough and outspoken. One of the greatest victories for the Asian-American community during her time here was the 2011 election of Mayor Ed Lee, the first Asian-American San Francisco mayor, a victory for which Pak was largely credited. ‘Rose was tough as nails; she swore like a sailor; she was fearless; and she was relentless, sometimes painfully so,’ Lee said in a statement following the news of Pak’s death. ‘But it was always in service of the cause she most believed in: uplifting her community.’
As a young woman, Pak became the first Asian woman journalist for The San Francisco Chronicle, earning a reputation as a wildly persistent reporter during the eight years she worked there. As a consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Pak influenced the Chinatown community in a number of other ways. She fundraised for political candidates and backed development and transportation plans that would benefit her community, such as bringing the Muni Central Subway to Chinatown and turning Stockton Street into an all-pedestrian area. After she fought successfully to save the Chinese Hospital, a narrow street nearby was renamed Rose Pak Way. She earned herself the cover photo on San Francisco Magazine’s Power Issue, which called her the ‘Chinatown Don.’
After spending months in China for medical treatment, including a kidney transplant, Pak returned to San Francisco in May and was met by a cheering crowd of around 300 people. She died of natural causes a few months later.