Cheryl Chow, one of the most respected Asian-American leaders in Western Washington, died Friday after a long battle with brain cancer, her family members have confirmed. She was 66.
The daughter of restaurateurs Ping and Ruby Chow, Cheryl grew up in Seattle at a time when (as one friend put it) "good Chinese girls stayed home."
“Late ‘60s early ‘70s there weren't a lot of opportunities for young girls,” said Gloria Lung Wakayama
Chow dedicated close to 50 years to the Seattle Chinese Girls Drill Team, started by her mother, to teach confidence, leadership and mentorship.
“She always told me to be a leader,” said Perla Knodle.
“That’s one of the things she taught me was that giving back to the community is important, being proud of being Chinese is important, too,” said Lorena Eng.
For 18 years, Chow was a teacher and principal in Seattle Schools. For 30 years, she coached girls basketball through Seattle Parks and Rec. And from 1990 to 1997, she served as a Seattle City Council Member, against the advice of her mother, King County Council Member Ruby Chow.
“Because she knew how hard it was and how mean people could be,” Cheryl Chow said.
She says two achievements stood out.
“One was getting the late night recreation centers and the second was pulling together Asian gang leaders,” she said.
As a director and President of the Seattle School Board from 2005 to 2009, she supported Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson, who resigned after a financial scandal.
When Goodloe-Johnson passed away in 2012, Chow traveled to South Carolina to speak at Goodloe-Johnson's memorial.
“Under her tenure, the four years she was here, student achievement went up, never went up before,” Chow said.
In August 2012, Chow revealed on KING 5 that she was gay - a secret she kept her whole life. At the time, she and her partner Sarah Morningstar had been together more than 10 years.
They ran marathons because training was one of the few ways they could be together in public.
Chow also became a second adoptive parent to Morningstar's daughter, Liliana.
Before she came out publicly, chow shared her news with her beloved drill team.
“I wanted them to have a role model that wasn't afraid to say anymore 'I'm gay and that's okay,’” she said.
“She really, really tried to lift people up, she didn't keep them down, she wanted to lift them up,” said Gloria Lung Wakayama
“But if I can save one child from feeling bad or even committing suicide because they were gay, then I would have succeeded in my last crusade,” Chow said.