Reflections from Former Secretary Chow's Tribute Dinner

OCA Honors Veteran and High Ranking APA Government Official Edward Chow, Jr.

(From left to right) OCA Past National President and OCA Past Executive Director Michael Lin, OCA Past National President Ginny Gong, Former U.S. Secretary Of Veteran Affairs and General Eric Shinseki, and Former Secretary of Veteran Affairs, State of Maryland Edward Chow, Jr.

March 23, 2016

OCA-Asian American Advocates (OCA) honored Former Secretary of Veteran Affairs for the State of Maryland, Edward Chow, Jr., on March 23, 2016 at a dinner event held at China Garden restaurant in Rosslyn, Virginia. The tribute was a joint effort by OCA National headquarters (OCA National), OCA-Greater Washington, D.C. chapter (OCA-DC chapter) and OCA-Northern Virginia chapter (OCA-NOVA chapter), with volunteer support from the OCA-New Jersey chapter.

The former Secretary retired in 2015, after a long public service career.  He carries the distinction of having served in the governor’s cabinet for both the states of Washington and Maryland.  Additionally, he was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) between 1993 and 2001.

OCA, represented by OCA Past National Presidents Dr. Michael Lin and Ginny Gong, each gave a brief speech and presented a plaque of recognition to the former Secretary.  OCA CEO Ken Lee called for the event when he learned that Chow has battling a terminal cancer with a short prognosis.

Chow has been a member of the OCA-DC chapter for a significant period of the time since he arrived in Washington, D.C. two decades ago.  OCA honored his family for the trailblazing paths the family made on the political scene at the OCA convention in Seattle in 2001.  Chow’s mother was the first Asian American to serve as a Kent County council member.  The Secretary has a sister who served on the city council, and a brother who is a district court judge.

Approximately 175 guests – of which 25% who were current and past high-ranking federal and state government officials, military leaders, and community leaders – attended the dinner.  Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, recently exited from the presidential campaign, also came to dinner to demonstrate his support and respect for Chow.

“I haven’t done this in the last 50 days,” O’Malley joked, as he paused for photographs.

During his speech, the former Secretary spoke briefly about his illustrious family, and the martial artist Bruce Lee, who lived with his family for several years.  Chow also shared that he had received his leadership training from commanders under whom he served as a volunteer enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War.   While at war, he encountered people of diverse backgrounds.  He recalled one company commander whose grandfather – a German immigrant – advised the commander to “love America” in the German language.  Chow said that his own grandfather, who immigrated from China in 1880, the same year as the commander’s German grandfather, had also told his family, “love America” but in Cantonese.

Spurred by the experiences, Chow did two things as he moved up the public service ladder.  First, he broke away from the model of his mother working primarily for and within an ethnic enclave and reached out to people of diverse communities.  The featured speakers and emcees at the event were close colleagues of the former Secretary’s, including two African American men, a Caucasian woman, Chinese American man, and Korean American woman. The speakers’ remarks wove a common thread of Chow’s genuine desire to serve and to mentor, along with stories of his trademark humor.  Second, throughout his career and prior to the widespread practice of affirmative action, he promoted new hires from underrepresented communities, women and veterans.  Using his platform, the former Secretary urged the audience to use their positions of influence to promote diversity and give back to the community.

Toward the end of the evening, the Secretary was surprised with a birthday cake elaborated decorated with the patriotic colors of the country he said he was proud to serve.  His birthday follows the event by six days.

The guests later commented surprise at the stories they had not previously heard from Chow, and lined up to greet him and take photos during and after the program.  Reflecting the former Secretary’s circles, the mixed crowd of guests included Generals Eric Shinseki and Tony Taguba, journalist Eleanor Clift, members of the Veterans National Medical Musical Group and several Asian American organizations such as The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and the Association of Vietnamese Americans (AVA), as well as ethnic press.

Chow said that he wants to continue sharing advice on landing a political appointment with Asian Americans aspiring to serve in the government.

The OCA-DC chapter hosts a tribute page on Facebook where the public is welcome to post messages or videos for the former Secretary to view.  The page can be found here.