Seattle mourns loss of 'Uncle' Bob Santos

Bob Santos. KOMO file photo

SEATTLE -- Bob Santos, a civil rights activist dubbed the unofficial mayor of the Chinatown-International District, has died. He was 82.

Santos died Saturday. He had been hospitalized in recent weeks, according to The Seattle Times.

He was credited with helping to preserve the International District and for working tirelessly for civil rights as part of the Gang of Four or the Four Amigos.

They were Santos, King County Councilman Larry Gossett, Latino activist Robert Maestas and Native-American activist Bernie Whitebear.

"Gossett, Santos, Whitebear, and Maestas formed Making Our Votes Count (MOVE), concluding that change would have to come through the ballot box. They became known as the Gang of Four, occasionally the Four Amigos, and if MOVE didn't last long, they did," says. "By the mid-1970s, the Gang of Four morphed into the Minority Executive Directors Coalition (MEDC) of King County, an umbrella group representing ethnic-minority communities. By the end of 2000, there were some 120 community-based organizations in MEDC."

King County Executive Dow Constantine called Santos "a passionate believer in the power of bringing people together to fight for fairness and opportunity. He was a man defined by both his work and his friendships ... . Seattle would look much different if not for Bob.

"Ever a serious force for social change, Bob was equally serious fun to be around. I regret that I will never be able to make good on my solemn promise to join Uncle Bob in a karaoke duet at the venerable Bush Garden on Maynard Avenue.”

Added Seattle Mayor Ed Murray:

"Michael and I were heartbroken to hear of today's passing of "Uncle" Bob Santos, one of our city's great community leaders. Bob Santos touched countless lives across every race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and age in Seattle. He was everyone's "uncle" because of his universal and unwavering friendship, and he was a hero to many marginalized Seattlites who he tirelessly advocated for. I have been fortunate to have worked with him on many of these issues for over two decades.

"Seattle mourns the loss of one or greatest civic leaders tonight, and our city is much greater because of his life. Our thoughts are with his wife, Sharon Tomiko Santos, and his entire family."

Sharon Tomiko Santos is a member of the state House of Representatives.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce issued this statement:

"I had the opportunity to first get to know Bob Santos – known as 'Uncle Bob' to so many he advocated for – when I chaired the UW’s Department of American Ethnic Studies. It was a tough time for the department, and our first meeting was marked by mutual skepticism. But it ended with mutual respect. Integrity and valor are the two words that first come to mind when I think of him. Through Bob’s leadership, advocacy and mentorship, the cause of civil rights and social justice has been advanced, and the lives of countless members of our community, especially Asian Pacific Islanders, have been improved.

"We’ve truly lost a giant."

Gov. Jay Inslee issued this statement:

“Washington is a better state because of Bob Santos’ passion for justice.

“Bob was a forward thinker. His early days as an activist with the ‘Gang of Four’ helped bring communities of color together in one unified voice to fight for equal rights.

“He served as the unofficial mayor of the Chinatown International District in Seattle, advocating for social justice that helped pave the way for future generations of API leaders. Washington's strong API community is a testament to his leadership and commitment to mentoring.

“Trudi and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, his family, and his friends. His passing is truly a loss but his legacy will live on.”

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