SEATTLE – Ruby Chow, a longtime matriarch of Seattle’s Chinese-American community, a successful restaurateur and a pioneer in Washington state politics, died Wednesday at age 87 of heart failure.
“She was an incredible trailblazer and advocate on behalf of Asian-Americans, the Asian-America community in politics, and a trailblazer for women,” said former Gov. Gary Locke, the nation’s first Chinese-American governor. “She helped shatter the glass ceiling on so many different fronts.”
She served three terms on the King County Council before retiring in 1985.
In the late ‘40s, she and her husband, Ping Chow, opened Ruby Chow’s Restaurant, a landmark that attracted politicians and celebrities, including Sidney Poitier. Among those who worked at her restaurant over the course of some 30 years was a young Bruce Lee, the actor and martial artist.
She was “the greatest model a daughter could have,” daughter Cheryl Chow, now a member of the Seattle Public Schools board, said Wednesday. “It was kind of a given that you’re supposed to give to others. If you’re born in the Chow family, you do community service.”
Ruby Chow was born Mar Seung Gum in 1920 in Seattle to Chinese immigrants who had come to the United States to work on the railroad lines. She later lived in New York, but moved back to Seattle when she married Ping Chow.
She began to make a name for herself by building a loyal clientele as a waitress at a restaurant in Seattle’s Chinatown, and that fan base followed when she opened her own establishment in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. It was one of the first Chinese restaurants outside Seattle’s International District.
A passion for community service and a belief that the Chinese community needed a louder voice in politics pushed her mother into public life, Cheryl Chow said.
“She was a role model for women (of) all backgrounds and a fierce believer in the importance of families,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement. “She built bridges, and because of that, she left our state (a) better place for us all.”
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