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WASHINGTON state Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, often told his political protégés that “if you have a heart for serving, you can do it.”

And when you conduct yourself in the state Legislature with the poise Shin did for more than two decades, you know when to step down.

On Jan. 7, Shin revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In his resignation letter, he courageously acknowledged it is “impossible for me to represent my constituents in the manner they deserve.”

Snohomish County’s 21st Legislative District has lost an elder statesman who was beloved for his empathetic nature and sheer grit.

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Adopted during the Korean War by an American soldier, Shin did not learn to read until he was a teenager. Regardless, he earned a doctorate from the University of Washington and became a respected East Asian studies professor.

In 1992, Shin made history as the first Korean American elected to the Washington state Legislature.

Colleagues recall his jampacked schedule, which meant meeting as many constituents as possible. Shin’s presence in the community inspired younger immigrants to enter the political arena, including former Shoreline City Council member Cheryl Lee, Metropolitan King County Council candidate Shari Song and state Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline.

They call themselves Shin’s “political daughters.”

Martha Choe, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s chief administrative officer and a longtime friend of Shin’s, said he was more than just a pioneer for Asian Americans in politics. He tirelessly advocated for adoptees and traveled often to promote trade between Washington and Asian countries.

Though personal faith prevented him from voting with fellow Democrats on social issues such as same-sex marriage, he never bashed opposing viewpoints.

Shin’s signature legislative victory came in 2002, when he fought to end the use of the derogatory term “Oriental” in state code. His bill became the first law in the country to identify people of Asian descent in statutes as “Asian.” The term “Spanish Americans” also was replaced by “Hispanics.”

His efforts renewed a sense of dignity for Washington’s fastest growing minority groups.

Paull Shin has our gratitude for his years of public service.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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