Cheryl Chow, an educator and former member of the Seattle City Council and Seattle School Board, died at home Friday. She was 66.
Ms. Chow’s work was felt by generations of Seattle children. She was a principal, girls’ basketball coach and instructor of the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team. In her two terms on the City Council, Ms. Chow worked with then-Mayor Norm Rice to form the Families and Education Levy and created outreach programs for kids involved in Asian street gangs.
“Kids are my hobby,” she told The Seattle Times in 1997, during her campaign for Seattle mayor.
Kids also were her career and, ultimately, her legacy. Former students, players and drill-team members remember her toughness, her high standards and her tenacious advocacy.
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With Ms. Chow, Rice said, “You always knew where she stood and had a strong feeling that she was going to fight for those people she cared about most.”
Though she was a friend, Rice said, “ We sometimes could fight over issues, but we never took it personally. I always had admiration for her grit. If there is such a thing as true grit, then Cheryl clearly represented true grit and commitment. … ”
“I see her as a role model and a leader, and that’s what I’ll always remember her for,” Rice said.
“Cheryl was a quick, no-nonsense person with a quick wit and who really wanted to get things done on behalf of kids and families in the city,” said Seattle City Council President Sally Clark.
Ms. Chow was diagnosed with central-nervous-system lymphoma in 2011.
Ms. Chow married her partner of 10 years, Sarah Morningstar, on March 16. The two have a daughter, Liliana Morningstar-Chow, who turned 5 on Tuesday.
“I was lucky to have found my soul mate in life and her legacy lives on in Liliana,” Morningstar said.
Coming out and getting married was calming for Ms. Chow, said Lorena Eng, who first met Ms. Chow in the 1960s. And while Ms. Chow was devastated to leave her daughter, it meant a lot to her to see Liliana turn 5, Eng said.
Ms. Chow’s decision to come out last year was, she said, “her last crusade,” and one she carried out from her wheelchair over the past year.
As different groups honored her for her public service, she made a point to talk about being afraid to say she was gay. That made her a role model for an additional group of people, said Clark.
Ms. Chow was the only daughter of longtime Metropolitan King County Council member Ruby Chow, and, said her brother Brien Chow, “the real thick thread” in a family that placed great importance on taking care of each other. Ms. Chow, the only girl of five children, ran for Ruby Chow’s County Council seat when her mother retired in 1985. She lost, but the campaign kicked off a long career of public service.
“She loved children. She loved people, and that’s all she wanted to do was help people,” said Brien Chow.
Ms. Chow began her career as a physical-education teacher and was principal of Sharples Junior High (now Aki Kurose) and a school administrator before running for public office.
She left a job at the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to join the Seattle City Council in 1990. In 1997, after two terms on the council, she lost her campaign for mayor.
She returned to Seattle Public Schools to serve as principal of Franklin and Garfield high schools. She was elected to the Seattle School Board in 2005 and served two terms overseeing the district during a difficult period of transition and school closures.
Ms. Chow was tough and stern, unafraid to make decisions that did not please everyone. But she also was funny, frank and self-deprecating.
She was proud of her work with the girls drill team, with which she performed as a child and then led for many years, hosting an annual slumber party.
She was strict with the drill-team members, emphasizing leadership and discipline, said Eng, who marched with the team in the 60s and remained friends with Ms. Chow.
At the same time, she said, she wanted the girls to have a good time and bond over their shared heritage. “Everything that Cheryl did, she worked to instill leadership among the girls and kind of mentor them for their adult lives,” Eng said.
In the 1970s, she started a Chinese girls basketball team of fifth- and sixth-grade grade girls, called the “Tasmanian Devils,” before they were officially allowed into the league.
Ms. Chow was preceded in death by her parents. Besides her wife and daughter, Ms. Chow is survived by brothers Edward Chow of Maryland, Shelton Chow of Seattle, Brien Chow of Renton and Mark Chow of Seattle.
A memorial at Town Hall is being arranged for April 20, but the time has not yet been set.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter