Northwest Asian Weekly
Over two-thousand people gathered at the WaMu Theater at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 23 for a celebration and remembrance in honor of “Uncle Bob Santos.”
Santos, 82, died on Aug. 27.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones, who served as emcee, welcomed the crowd and said,
“If for one moment you think Uncle Bob is missing the biggest party with his name attached to it, you are sorely mistaken. I can feel his presence in this room … walking through the aisles with his bebop hat, that everlasting smile on his face and always finding time to come and tease as many people as he encountered.”
Jones knew Santos for more than 50 years — the two met in grade school. “He offered to teach a boxing class at Knights of Columbus. In that first encounter, Bob had convinced a group of raggedy, skinny little kids … that we could be boxers. I was convinced I was going to be a boxing legend, until one small issue came up — a fist.” Jones said he got hit in the face and knocked down to the ground. Jones’ boxing career came to an abrupt end, but his friendship with Santos lasted a lifetime.
Thomas Im, the Director of Community Development and Sustainability at InterIm — which Santos founded in the International District (ID) to provide affordable housing for seniors and workers — described Santos as a “friend, mentor, leader, rabble-rouser, change agent, community organizer, and hero. But for me and for many of his nieces and nephews, it’s Uncle.”
Im called Santos a master storyteller. “Through these stories, we learned a little bit about him, but more importantly a lot about the community that he fought for all his life … we learned what it meant to live with purpose, to serve with dignity while working for the dignity of others, to think creatively while acting strategically.”
One story Santos often told was that of his father, Sammy Santos — who had been a well-known prizefighter in Seattle, but who, through the years of boxing, had lost his eyesight.
“This man who has survived a life of his color being scorned by words and cruel gazes of men who don’t know any better; this boxer who has endured the countless jarring blows to his body and his head; this Manong who is blind from his profession and left living in a tiny room, in a poor and ignored community. For this is the day his son takes his arm and shows him the place that he has come to love. For this is when his son leads him to the barber shop where he gets his haircut, the hotel where he takes a bath, the diner where he eats his lunch, the tavern where he sips his beer. This is the day when he meets all his friends that make up his memory and moments of glory. And this is the time when he can share a smile with his boy who can see the life that he once lived. He’s smiling. He sees a soldier, an entrepreneur, a boxer, an activist, a man. He sees courage and a leader. He sees charisma and character. He sees heart and hope. He sees his son’s steps, once small and timid, grow into strong, giant strides. He sees that his own blindness gave his son a vision, a set of eyes that could transform the world that he lived in for all the better. He’s smiling.
He sees a place that once was poor and ignored, born again. For his son has built new homes for Manongs that lived all their lives in poor, decrepit rooms. A new garden built for the aged who would otherwise be sitting in their small quarters, just waiting for the next day to come. A gymnasium and a library, so all the neighborhood’s children could have a place to play and live life, as a child should. He has seen these, as well as many other great feats achieved by this son of his.”
Santos was one of the Gang of Four, also known as the Four Amigos — a group of racially diverse friends who hung out, sang karaoke, and fought injustice. Larry Gossett, the sole surviving member of the Amigos, who gave a eulogy. Representatives of the two other Amigos, Bernie Whitebear and Roberto Maestas, spoke of the men’s friendship and how their activism made Seattle better. Being so well-connected and influential, many wondered why Santos never ran for political office. Joel Ing, a lifelong family friend told the crowd, “Because he didn’t want to follow a script.” Ing regarded Santos as a second father.
Daniel Pak performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” — a reminder of Hawaii, one of Santos’ favorite destinations.
Judge Jones asked attendants to take a moment of silence and reflect on their memories of Santos, to “go back to that one moment of Bob that immediately comes to mind … that moment of reflection of his vibrancy and personal impact he made on your life. Whether it was helping you get a job, congratulating you on an accomplishment, pushing on social justice issues, or teasing you or making you laugh or just making you feel special.”
Santos served in the U.S. Marines Corps in 1950s. His son, Danny Santos, also a Marine, and grandson, Brendan Busby of the Federal Way High School Air Force Junior ROTC, did the flag presentation, along with honor guards from Cathay Post #186 and the Nisei Veterans Committee. It was followed by a very moving playing of Taps.
The mood lightened a bit with a slideshow to the recording of Santos singing, “What a Wonderful World.” Those who knew Santos knew how much he loved to sing.
Event coordinator Elaine Ikoma Ko, who helped put together Jones’ remarks, said the event was for all “to draw inspiration to live their lives as Uncle Bob did … there can be no tribute more befitting of the remarkable life of a man we all know and love as Uncle Bob.”
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