NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Cheryl Chow, former member of the Seattle School Board and city council and daughter of the late Chinatown leader Ruby Chow, passed away at her home on Friday, March 29. She was 66 years old.
Chow had been battling central nervous system lymphoma since 2011. She was briefly in remission, but the cancer resurfaced in 2012.
She died peacefully at home. Her focus for the past few weeks had spending time with her wife and daughter.
Chow leaves behind a legacy focused on children. After graduate school, Chow became a teacher at Hamilton International Middle School. This started a long career in education. Chow would continue on to become the principal of Sharples Junior High (now Aki Kurose Middle School Academy), before temporarily leaving education to join the Seattle City Council in 1990. She would become a member of a city council that included had three Asian American members; herself, Charlie Chong, and Martha Choe, in 1997.
Chow returned to her education career, serving as the principal of Franklin High School and Garfield High School, after an unsuccessful mayoral campaign following her two city council terms. In 2005, she was elected to the Seattle School Board during a time where the district saw increasing school closures and instability. She would retire from the school board two terms later, leaving the district much more stable.
“I’m more confident now, after the past four years, that we have an increasingly unified community that recognizes the importance of public education, and that we cannot fail our kids,” Chow said in 2009, after announcing her decision not to seek re-election. “The board is committed to working together with the superintendent, and most importantly, willing to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. I am confident we have a strategic plan in place to raise academic achievement and give students the tools they need to be successful.”
She also focused on youth outside of her professional life. She often highlighted how important her involvement with the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team was to her. She began participating in the team at the age of 6 and would go on to help organize and lead it. She also coached basketball, starting a fifth- and sixth-grade girls basketball team, and she worked with the Girls Scouts of Western Washington, as the low-income outreach program director.
Following her cancer diagnosis, Chow’s “last crusade” became speaking publicly about her sexual orientation. Chow came out as lesbian in August 2012 and married her partner on March 16, 2013. Together, they have a daughter. She said that one of her biggest regrets was not telling her mother, Ruby Chow, before she died.
“Why did I come out after 66 years of quietly being gay and in the closet?” she said at a city council event honoring her in September 2012. “I want kids out there who are not only Asian, but white, Black, Filipino, whatever to pick up the newspaper and say to their parents, ‘Look, you’ve been voting for Cheryl Chow for years. You’ve been supporting her. And you didn’t see anything wrong with her, and she’s gay. So what’s wrong with me being gay?’ And if I can help one child from committing suicide or feeling bad about themselves, then this is my last crusade.”
She continued, “When I said I wasted 66 years, I didn’t mean because I was in the closet. What I meant was I could have helped so many more people and kids from not committing suicide or not feeling bad about themselves, but instead finding out who they really were.”
Chow was preceded in death by her parents. In addition to her wife and child, Chow is survived by her brothers Edward, Shelton, Brien, and Mark.
A memorial service is planned for April 20 at 10:30 a.m. at Town Hall. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Liliana Morningstar-Chow Trust or Seattle Chinese Girls Drill Team c/o 901 Fifth Ave. Suite 4100 Seattle, Wash. 98164. (end)
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