By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
People imagine I get “scoops” because I have a famous friend. It doesn’t work that way.
When I was invited to former Gov. Gary Locke’s 70th birthday on Jan. 21, I was more concerned with giving him a suitable gift than covering his party. As we age, we care less about material things. The easiest thing would be to get someone a bottle of wine. But he doesn’t drink alcohol.
What can you give a guy who has achieved so much in life, including being U.S. Secretary of Commerce for President Obama and U.S. Ambassador to China. In all his key posts, he was always lauded as the first Chinese American blazing the trail for other Asian Americans. Despite his big titles, he doesn’t care much about fancy and expensive clothes or have extravagant taste. He is strictly a pragmatist, Mr. Frugal. Remember, he was secretly photographed with his backpack at Sea-Tac Airport with his family on his way to China for his ambassadorship. You’d think he was carrying the most important family treasures in his backpack. No, only cat and dog food, he told friends later. That photo became a sensation in China, contrasting Chinese government officials who often bring along an entourage to show off their status.
Set at Seattle’s Palisade Restaurant, the informal yet intimate party was set for 50 people, including his aunts and uncles, four siblings and their spouses (an older sister and brother-in-law flew from California), and people who had supported him through thick and thin. Quite a few had worked for him during his governor era, including Martha Choe and Fred Kiga.
When I arrived, I hadn’t even decided if I should write about his celebration.
However, Locke’s first greeting words were, “You can’t write about this (party).” Fine, I get it. It’s a private event, and I should respect the host’s wish. After all, who would want to upset the “birthday man”? It’s his big day, turning 70.
Okie dokie, I went to my table, relaxed, and enjoyed myself. I repeated to my husband what Locke said. So he didn’t need to work. “Yea, hide the camera,” I joked.
So why did I change my mind and why are you now reading about this in my blog? Actually, it’s the other way around — he changed his mind.
The touching part of the program was when Locke’s three children, Emily, Dylan, and Peyton, sang. Peyton, the youngest, didn’t sing much, but she produced a brilliant gift. She began reading a letter and then said, “I didn’t write it.” Clever she was—creating suspense and surprising her dad. The letter was from President Obama.
And Emily made a slideshow with many photos capturing numerous rare and fun moments of her dad. Both daughter and father had graduated from Yale University.
Emily probably favored Yale because it’s her dad’s alma mater. Dylan is majoring in theater and entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California. It’s wonderful to see more Asian Americans jumping into the entertainment industry. Each of Locke’s children has an independent mind.
You could see Locke beaming with happiness and pride at his children. Over the years, the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post published their photos as babies, and also as they grew up. It also gives us joy to see them develop into their own personalities, and the promise of limitless possibilities. What a fantastic job their parents have done despite his demanding career and everything the family does under public scrutiny!
Fun at the table
At the table, each guest got to solve a puzzle out of Locke’s caricature. While forking over crab cakes and kniving steaks for our dinner, we got to enjoy Locke singing popular songs from the 1970s with a band made of old friends, and some had performed with him together at Franklin High School. And Locke fondly remembered that he and Scott Oki were pals since their Eagle Scouts days, and that they had performed together, too.
It may sound weird that an ex is an organizer of someone’s birthday. Locke’s former wife, Mona, and their children were the organizers. Locke wanted his 70th birthday to be low-key. But Mona insisted, “This is a milestone.”
For Mona and Locke to maintain a strong and special relationship, even after their divorce, is admirable. How many people can do that?
It reminds me of myself, a child of divorcees since I was 6 years old. My mother only quit insulting, slighting, and attacking my father when I was in my late 30s, and I was the peacemaker. Can you imagine how emotionally difficult it was for me and my brother to experience the trauma of my parents’ fights?
Why blog about it?
I don’t think Locke is going to like what I write next. As a rule, politicians are suspicious towards journalists. They assume that every journalist aims to expose them in a negative light. They like to control instead of going with the flow. And Locke is no exception. He warned and ordered me not to write a story about his birthday, not once, but twice. “Warned” or “ordered” might not be the appropriate descriptions, but he did speak with a tone like he’s the governor, ambassador, and, simply, the boss.
I don’t take it personally as I have known the man for almost four decades, even before he won his first political office as a state legislator. There was a legitimate reason that he didn’t want me to write about it. Over the years, his supporters and fans grew all over the world. When Locke was in the room, people still clamor for his autograph and a selfie with him. He’s a popular public figure even though he is no longer in politics. He has made many allies from all walks of life, who have volunteered and contributed to his campaigns, and people who worked for him when he was the King County Executive and had other political jobs. Those friends would not be thrilled that they were not invited to his “milestone” birthday.
I never understood why Locke relented last week. He called me and suggested that I could write about it in my blog, adding, “I read your blog.” Well, then, I never want to disappoint my readers.
So here you go. Gary Locke celebrated his 70th birthday recently. Born on Jan. 21, 1950, you may think it’s the year of the tiger. It is not. His birth date was before the beginning of Lunar New Year. So, he’s an ox. In 1950, the Lunar New Year began on Feb. 17.
The ox works hard all his life, both mentally and physically. That explains why Locke likes to fix things in his house, and his favorite store is Home Depot.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.