Al Lowe, leader in battle to integrate Pasadena schools, dies at 92

Pasadena civic leader Al Lowe, 73, receives a hug from former Pasadena Mayor Katie Nack at a farewell celebration for Lowe and his wife, Rose Marie, at the Tournament House in Pasadena Sunday afternoon.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Al Lowe, a prominent Pasadena businessman and community leader who helped implement a court order to integrate that city’s schools in the 1970s, has died. He was 92.

Lowe was a fourth-generation Californian and Chinese American whose ancestors arrived in the U.S. in the 1800s to mine gold and build railroads. He ran a furniture shop on Colorado Boulevard for decades and became the first member of a racial minority elected to the Pasadena school board in 1969.

He rose to prominence in 1970 after U.S. District Judge Manuel Real determined that the district’s schools were de facto racially segregated and approved a plan to integrate schools through a busing program that sent students around the district. Pasadena became the first district outside the American South to be hit with a federal order to integrate.


The plan sparked outrage from some in Pasadena. But Lowe, along with two other school board members, supported the ruling and carried it out. He soon became the face of the busing plan as the board began to integrate school.

Lowe told The Times in 2000 that being an Asian American helped him during the tumultuous times.

“As a person who was neither black or white, I saw myself as friends of people of both races,” Lowe said then.

Lowe received threats, his home was picketed, and his business suffered. He and the two other board members who supported integration beat back a recall effort in 1971. But Lowe lost his seat on the school board when he was up for re-election in 1973 and an anti-busing slate of candidates won a majority.

Larry Wilson, the public editor of the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers and a columnist and member of the editorial board for the Southern California News Group, called Lowe “the man who saved Pasadena” in a column about his death this week.


“His genius for negotiation and compromise had nothing to do with his race,” Wilson wrote. “It had everything to do with every fiber of his personal being.”

Over the years, Pasadena turned to him time and again to help guide the city through turbulent times.

When activists protested the Tournament of Roses — calling it an “old white men’s club” — Lowe stepped in to lead a diversity committee and created an outreach program.

“He was instrumental in getting rid of that stigma,” Ken Burrows, a past president of the tournament, told The Times in 2000. “It was a major change, no question.”

Lowe became the chairman of the Pasadena Playhouse board in 1994 when it faced financial troubles and helped it tap into new sources of money.

He and his wife Rose Marie moved to the Bay Area in 2000 to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

Lowe appeared to have died of natural causes on Nov. 21, a representative of the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau said Saturday.

Times staff writer Nina Agrawal contributed to this report.