On Monday, May 25, 2020, S. Kenneth Pai, loving husband, father, and grandfather, passed away—one week before his 85th birthday. Ken married Julie Li in 1968, and raised two children, Ayesha and Derek. He received his Master’s in Urban Planning from Virginia Tech in 1964, and retired in 2001 as Director of International Marketing for the Port of Seattle.
Ken was born in 1935 to Zhang Fen Pai, a refined Southern lady from Zhejiang Province, and Chien Min Pai, a central government official and liaison to China’s Northwest frontier. As a boy, Ken survived illness, Japanese occupation, and the death of his mother, eventually discovering his iconoclastic spirit while fighting for opportunities to go to school amidst the Chinese Civil War.
After majoring in Foreign Languages and English Literature at the National Taiwan University and completing two years of compulsory military service, Ken decided to pursue the American dream in 1961, eventually landing in Blacksburg, Virginia. At Virginia Tech, and later at Columbia and Harvard, he studied urban planning and began a career of public service in cities like Norwalk, New York, and Hoboken. His contributions to the “Model Cities” program helped attract a new generation of residents, businesses, and artists to Hoboken. He met Julie at Columbia University in 1965.
In 1980, along with their two young children, Ken and Julie moved to Seattle where Ken worked at the Port of Seattle until his retirement in 2001 as Director of International Marketing. With the normalization of U.S.-China diplomacy, Ken turned his focus to Asia as it grew to become the Port’s primary market. He was instrumental in establishing and maintaining relationships with Chinese governmental and industry leaders, and played a key role in bringing major airline and shipping line business to Seattle. He later created a partnership between the Port, Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce and the local business community, and in 1990 co-founded the Seattle Trade Development Alliance, now part of Greater Seattle Partners.
Ken had a lifelong passion for learning and for building bridges where none had existed before. Fluent in American and Chinese cultural norms, he made friends so easily that one could forgive his thunderous sneezes and off-kilter baseball caps. Informed by decades of experience with both frontiers and obstacles, Ken was a teacher and mentor to many. He is survived by his wife Julie, daughter Ayesha (m. Armando), son Derek, granddaughters Marisa and Bella, and three siblings.
Due to current social distancing guidelines, a memorial service is not planned at this time. Donations in Ken’s honor may be made to the U.S.-China Strong Foundation (100kstrong.org) and to the Parkinson’s Foundation (parkinson.org).