Beloved San Francisco political activist Rose Pak dies at 68

Rose Pak at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco in 2003.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Rose Pak, a brash and lively community activist who helped transform San Francisco’s growing Asian American population into a politically powerful constituency during an era when few women carried such clout, has died. She was 68.

Pak died of natural causes in her home Sunday morning. Friends and family said she seemed healthy after spending several months in China after a kidney transplant, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Pak never held elected office, but as the longtime consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, she helped raise money for preferred politicians and backed projects that benefited Chinatown’s residents.


She hated being called a power broker. “If I was white, they’d call me a civic leader,” she said.

In 2011, Pak started a campaign that led to Ed Lee becoming the city’s first Chinese American mayor. She would later call him an enormous disappointment.

“She was strong and fearless,” Lee told the Chronicle. “Whether she was right or wrong, she grounded herself in representing the community. She really wanted to make sure Chinatown as a whole was respected.”

Pak was born in Hunan, China, and fled to Hong Kong with her family as a child. She arrived in San Francisco in 1967, became a reporter for the Chronicle and covered the community she would later champion.

She was such an aggressive reporter that a lawyer ended up in court on battery charges after throwing a punch at Pak during an interview.

The lawyer called her “an enormously pushy person.” Pak countered that she “was trained to be persistent.”


Pak became an advocate as she became immersed in issues concerning the neighborhood.

In the 1970s, she helped save Chinatown’s Chinese Hospital, an underfunded medical center for Cantonese-speaking poor residents. A few years ago, she took over efforts to raise more than $100 million to rebuild the facility.

“I don’t know if I’m the best person, but someone had to do it,” she said, according to the newspaper.

Pak was such an institution that 300 people, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, were on hand in May at San Francisco’s airport to greet her when she returned from China.

She told the crowd that her doctor said she could live 40 more years.

Pak said she needed only 15, including 10 to rebuild a housing complex in Chinatown and five “to get even with the people who wished me dead.”


1:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with more details.

This article originally was published at 10:10 a.m.