Editor’s Note: Respected and widely beloved Seattle community activist Ruth Woo died this week at the age of eighty-nine.
News of her passing has sparked an outpouring of tributes.
“Over many, many years, Ruth Woo was a wonderful friend and mentor to countless Washingtonians. She was a trusted leader with a remarkable talent for bringing people together. Ruth was generous with her time, her ideas and advice,” said Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.
“She was motivated not by fame or access to power, but by a contagious belief that we could always do more to make this a better place to live. She had a remarkable ability to create and connect communities, a talent that helped advance the cause of civil rights,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
NPI’s Gael Tarleton was among those who knew Ruth Woo. What follows are her reflections on the wise and wonderful person Ruth was.
So many people called her Auntie — I just called her Ruth.
We lost a great woman this week.
Ruth Woo never worked in the spotlight. She’d hold court at Bush Gardens in the International District, in her favorite booth. I never would have known her if I hadn’t run for office. When I decided to run for the Seattle Port Commission in 2007, several people told me to call Ruth Woo. I left her voice mails to introduce myself. But I didn’t speak to her until October, just a month before the election.
She asked me a few questions about the years I worked in Russia. Then she said “I’m going to endorse you. Don’t let me down.”
In the years that followed, I’d call her to talk about the politics of the Port. She always had a fascination with the Port of Seattle. She understood the role of trade. But more than anything, she couldn’t believe so few women ever ran for Port Commissioner. That’s when I realized Ruth Woo fought many fights in her life, but one of those fights was getting more women elected to local and state offices.
She wanted more women of color to choose to enter politics too. And for her, that meant becoming a confidante. She was a safe and trusted advisor with a keenly tuned ear to the political fault lines every elected official steps into.
So few women take the time to mentor women who choose to enter the political arena. Here was Ruth Woo, who lived eighty-nine years, and who devoted more than half her life to helping women and people of color win and then guided them as they navigated into the world of elected office. She was intimidating, encouraging, candid, and wise. Ruth Woo did it her way. We’re so lucky she chose our community to make her home and make a difference. She is now at peace.