• Sun. Apr 11th, 2021

Rosalyn Koo, 94, Dies; Fund-Raising Powerhouse for Chinese Communities


Mar 5, 2021

It was a deeply intimate project for all the contributors, as Ms. Chung noted: They stayed with it for 15 or more years and attended all the girls’ graduations. The girls called Ms. Koo “Grandma Koo.”

When Spring Bud began, thousands of girls in the region were not attending school, in part because the culture’s gender bias favored boys. For her own part, Ms. Koo remembered wanting to be a boy from a young age, cutting her hair short and wearing boys’ clothes over her school uniform. When her brothers brought home C grades, they were punished. When she brought home an A, she was told not to study so hard.

Rosalyn Chin-Ming Chen was born on Nov. 11, 1926, in Shanghai. Her father, K.F. Chen, was a senior executive at the Bank of China; her mother, Margaret (Sang) Chen, was a homemaker, though she was college educated, which was unusual for her generation. (Margaret’s father was a minister who educated all 10 of his children.)

During the horrors of the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Japanese bombed her city, Rosalyn became attuned to classism and injustice; when she was 7, she announced to her mother that she would dedicate her life to helping the poor. Her mother responded by suggesting that she learn to clean her room first.

Rosalyn was sent to the prestigious McTyeire School, an all-girls boarding school in Shanghai, which she adored even though she was suspended twice. Hers was the last class to graduate, in 1947, before the Communists took over.

The school deteriorated under party rule, and when Ms. Koo returned in the 1970s and saw its run-down condition, she raised funds for its rehabilitation — stipulating in exchange that the school, which had become coeducational, revert to educating only girls.

Her parents picked out a nice suitor for her, but she declared that she would not marry, and that she wanted to be educated abroad. Her parents had their own fears that she would be radicalized by the Communists if she attended a university in Beijing, so they sent her to Mills, a women’s college in Oakland, Calif. After two years, she transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a degree in economics in 1953. In 1950 she married Karlson Koo, a chemist. He died in 2000.


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