Blog: Remembering Jimmy Locke

Julia and Jimmy Locke with their extended family at son Gary’s swearing-in as U.S. Secretary of Commerce at the White House

Of the many special moments I remember about Jimmy Locke, father of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and who passed away last week, a few stand out.

Now, I don’t remember exactly when I met Jimmy. I think it was in 1983 during Gary’s first campaign, when he ran for state legislator. Jimmy was a tireless volunteer, supporter, and chef at Gary’s campaign events, from the time Gary served as state representative to King County executive to governor.

Jimmy Locke with son Gary and his grandchildren when Gary was governor

Jimmy’s voice was often cheerful, and he smiled a lot. I never saw him sad except on one occasion, which I will never forget. It was the day Gary officially announced that he would not seek a third term as governor of Washington state for family reasons.

Jimmy knew of his son’s decision beforehand. Yet, he could not control his feelings of disapproval and disappointment. He was completely heartbroken.

“He could have won,” Jimmy kept on saying. “He should run and be governor one more term.” He was the lone dissenter in the family. His wife, Julie, agreed with their son’s decision.

Jimmy’s happiest moments usually had to do with his children’s achievements. Jimmy was not a man of many words, but his laughter was contagious. When I called him to ask him how he was reacting to Gary’s appointment as a cabinet member of the Obama administration, he laughed so loudly and ceaselessly over the phone that I had to pull it away from my ear. Gary became the 10th in line to succeed the U.S. president, the first Asian American to do so.

One highlight for Jimmy was attending his son’s swearing-in at the White House and meeting President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. And he was thrilled that the president introduced him, touching on his military accomplishment during World War II.  Very few cabinet members received a swearing-in ceremony at the White House due to the president’s tight schedule. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sworn in at the State Department.

Jimmy Locke helps son Gary swear in as King County Executive

One precious lesson I learned from Jimmy is that age doesn’t matter. Aging never slowed him down.

Bold in his own way, Jimmy visited his native land, China, when he was almost 80 and again when he was almost 90.

At the time, friends were concerned that if something happened to him, it would be the end, for China does not have the most advanced medicine and health care system. But Jimmy just shrugged it off.

Two years ago, at the age of 91, he took his wheelchair-bound wife, Julie, on a trip to D.C. to see Gary’s swearing-in. They wanted to see the White House. You would assume that he took a direct flight. No, he used the trip to visit relatives and stopped over in New York. You might call him gutsy. I say, he just lived life to the fullest because fear was not in his vocabulary.

Even in his 90s, Jimmy worked hard in his yard, growing fruits and vegetables for his friends and family. Julie said he never stopped a moment at home. I was one of his beneficiaries, eating his prunes and snacking on his Christmas brownies.

Like father, like son; I suspect the reason Gary works so hard in his political career is his dad’s influence. Gary was once voted the most hardworking legislator by the Seattle Weekly.

Jimmy Locke celebrates when son Gary becomes King County Executive

Jimmy suffered a stroke a year ago. In September, when I visited Jimmy at Kin On Nursing Home, he did not recognize me at all.

However, he recognized the Northwest Asian Weekly when I showed him a copy. He looked at the paper, the lines, and photos attentively, making some sounds as if he was trying to reconnect with his past. I miss him dearly. ♦

One Response to “Blog: Remembering Jimmy Locke”

  1. Katherine Cheng says:

    What a nice tribute to an incredibly generous and giving man. Jimmy Locke will be dearly missed by all of us. If only there were more Jimmy Lockes in the world.

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