SF leaders praise Rose Pak’s passion, advocacy

San Francisco city leaders Monday praised Chinatown community leader Rose Pak for her passionate advocacy, her leadership and her penchant for straight talk following her death on Sunday.

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, 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. … That was the key to her influence and her ability to talk to everybody, her ability to talk straight.”

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. … 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.

Malcolm Yeung, deputy director at the Chinese Cultural Development Center, said:

“People know Rose as a political brawler, as the most astute advisor on how to get things done around The City. … 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.”

Supervisor Jane Kim said in a statement Monday that while Pak was good at the “sport” of politics, 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.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, said The City had lost a “fearless advocate”:

“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.”

Pak died of natural causes at her home. Earlier this year she returned from a six-month stay in China where she received a kidney transplant.

A former reporter and one-time head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Pak battled on behalf of the poor, immigrants and women, and fiercely advocated for the renovation of public housing in Chinatown, according to city officials.

She also worked to raise the influence and visibility of the Chinese community in San Francisco, where there was not a single Chinese official when she began her efforts, according to Brown.

It was in part through Pak’s efforts that Lee was appointed mayor in 2011 after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom became lieutenant governor, becoming the city’s first Chinese-American mayor. Lee was elected to the position later that year and then re-elected in 2015.

Pak also worked to transform Chinese Hospital into a $160 million modern facility and helped to bring the Central Subway, connecting Chinatown to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, into reality, according to city officials. The Central Subway is currently under construction.

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.

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.