June 7: Ruby Chow, local legend, dies at 87
Last updated 12-24-08 at 2:24 p.m.
Ruby Chow, accompanied by her husband, Ping, are at a tribute and fundraising dinner held in their honor at the Asian Resource Center Sept. 15, 2007.
Photo by Rebecca Ip
By Eleanor Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
Editor’s note: Ruby Chow is a Seattle icon. She passed away this year, and though she will be missed, we will never forget her contributions to Seattle and to Chinatown. She was truly a pioneer, one who was brave enough to give Asian Americans a voice in this city.
Ruby Chow, a restaurateur, political pioneer, civic activist, community leader, and philanthropist, passed away the morning of June 4 from heart failure, just shy of her 88th birthday.
Since suffering a stroke four years ago, her physical condition had been very fragile, and her health rapidly declined recently, according to those who knew her.
On May 28, the Chong Wa Benevolent Association held its annual “Celebration with the Governor,” attended by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Chow started the dinner 40 years ago, but was unable to attend this year due to poor health.
Gov. Gregoire said in a statement, “Ruby was the soul of Seattle and exemplified so much of what makes Washington great. She stood up for the underrepresented, especially Asian Americans, from the time she was a young woman. ... Throughout her life, Ruby did what women do best. She built bridges, and because of that, she left our state better place for us all.”
Chow was a towering figure in the local Chinese American community. She and her husband, Ping, a renowned opera singer, opened Ruby Chow’s Restaurant in 1948, the first Chinese restaurant in Seattle outside of Chinatown.
With the success of her restaurant, Chow embarked on a public relations campaign to create a better understanding of Chinese cuisine and culture in the general public. She and her husband invited the general public to Chinese New Year celebrations and other community events, publicizing positive images of Chinatown.
They also published the first Chinese cookbook, hosted the first Chinese cooking show, and started the first Chinese frozen food business.
Bettie Luke, sister of the late Wing Luke and a staff member with the Organization of Chinese Americans - Greater Seattle Chapter, said, “Ruby Chow was a pioneer advocate for Chinese girls at an early time when there was no community organization or activity that served their needs. She organized the Chinese Girls Drill Team where the girls learned discipline, cooperation, teamwork, responsibility and both social and organizational skills.
Chow promoted female equality in a number of other ways. She was the first female board member of Chong Wa Benevolent Society, an unheard of feat at the time. She and other Chinese American females essentially stormed the board of Chong Wa, which at the time was the umbrella organization for all Chinese American groups in the area, and demanded to be included. She also went on to become president of a Chong Wa chapter.
Chow assisted several other prominent Asian American figures in winning political office, including Wing Luke and Gary Locke. She used her considerable influence and fundraising skills, as well as inventive strategy. For example, she came up with an idea to stuff the fortune cookies at her restaurant with “Vote for Wing Luke” strips.
Then she herself entered mainstream politics when she became the first Asian American to be elected to the King County Council in 1973. She was elected to three consecutive terms, before retiring in 1985.
During her tenure, Chow was adamant about having minority and female representation at the county government level. When the council once considered lowering the requirements for hiring minority and female staff, Chow strenuously objected and prevented the proposal.
Chow was born on June 6, 1920, to Jim Sing Mar and Wong See. She was the eldest of 10 children. She attended local schools: Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Washington Junior High, and Garfield and Franklin high schools, but dropped out at 16 to work and help support the family.
She is survived by her husband, Ping, and five children, all of whom are further testament to her accomplishments. Son Edward was the deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Clinton Administration, Shelton is an educator, Brien is an entrepreneur and Mark is a King County Superior Court Judge. Daughter Cheryl is president of the Seattle School board. (end)
Assunta Ng contributed to this report. Eleanor Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.