By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I met the parents of former governor Gary Locke, the late Jimmy and Julie, when he was a Washington State Representative. Julie died peacefully last week at her home. She was 90.
Most community members remember Jimmy more because he’s sociable and often cooked for Locke’s campaigns. Few realize that Julie had wit, determination, insights, and often, an opinion of her own.
One time, I was invited to a lunch at a Bellevue golf club, where Julie and Jimmy were guests of honor.
The late June Chen, the lunch host, said she needed to lose some weight.
“I should lose five pounds. I will go on a diet after the holidays,” she said.
“(Losing) five pounds would be pretty good,” someone said.
“No, 10 pounds,” Julie quickly said in English. Her words, stern eyes, and face expressed like a command. It was. Julie never sugarcoated her messages. Her approach was tough love. I thought guests would roll their eyes. Instead, everyone burst out laughing, including June, as she was direct and speaking the truth.
When Locke announced that he was not running for a third term as governor, his fans were disappointed. His father was sad, Julie was not. Polls had shown that Locke would have likely won the third term, and Jimmy would have liked to see his son run again. Many times, Julie would be the lone dissenter, no matter how unpopular her stance. “Too much hard work (to be governor),” she said. She was aware of the pressures of the job and sacrifices her son had to make.
Locke remembered how hard his mother studied English to pass the citizenship exam. Her example inspired Locke to use it in his speech to new citizens at many July 4 swearing-in ceremonies at the Seattle Center. She took English classes and often practiced English with her five children.
Julie talked to me mostly in Cantonese, so I never had the chance to converse with her in English. It didn’t matter that her English wasn’t perfect. Julie knocked on my friend’s house in Seward Park for her son, when he was running for the state legislator’s seat in 1982.
“You mean Julie’s doorbelling for Gary’s campaign?” I was amazed. “What did she say?” I assumed it would most likely be Jimmy who would have done that, not Julie. But to help her son, Julie would do anything.
“Yep, she spoke in English and asked me to support Gary,” said my friend. I could imagine Julie’s boldness when she knocked.
Julie’s maiden name was Eng. The Eng Family Association, one of the major family associations in Seattle, has not been politically active. Of the 35 years I have been publisher of the Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly, I remember the Eng family co-sponsoring one fundraising dinner — Locke’s gubernatorial campaign in Chinatown. Thanks to Julie and Jimmy, the dinner raised thousands of dollars.
Julie’s reading skills in English were impressive. Once, we talked about Seattle politics. She said she read about it in the newspapers.
A long-time subscriber of The Seattle Times, she read other English newspapers and magazines. She was not the type to skim through articles. She read every single line of the story from the beginning to end.
Even though she had Parkinson’s, Julie tried hard to be independent. In the 1990s, she wanted to go from one spot to another at her son’s fundraising dinner. However, she struggled to walk. I went over to offer my help, and she said, “No need.”
A few seconds later, she figured it out. “Step back,” she told me. I did, and had no idea what she was trying to do.
To my astonishment, Julie literally hopped like a rabbit more than two feet away from her original position. If her feet resisted walking, jumping was her means to reach her goal. She knew how to manipulate her own body and her nerves.
In the last few years of her life, she was confined to a wheelchair and was unable to speak much. But her mind was still sharp. When her caretaker asked my profession, I told her to guess. Julie pointed to the Seattle Chinese Post newspaper, giving her a clue. But the caretaker didn’t get it.
“Are you a herbal shop owner?” the caretaker said. “Are you in restaurant? Are you…?
Perhaps, why I admire Julie is that through grit and hard work, she and Jimmy managed to raise five children successfully, leaving the Yesler Terrace public housing project — one went on to become a governor, U.S. Commerce Secretary, and U.S. Ambassador to China. She was more fortunate than her husband (who died before her) because she got to see her American-born son being named U.S. Ambassador to China in 2011.
It was Julie who gave Gary Locke his Chinese name, Kai Fai, which means giving the family brightness and glory. None of the other four kids carry names with that kind of implication and power. It was almost as if she knew that Gary — the only kid out of five — would become a household name in America and China.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.