San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had “a long history of breaking barriers,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. Lee spent part of his childhood in public housing and attended Franklin High School.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who died suddenly early Tuesday, was a Seattle-born son of Chinese immigrants who spent part of his childhood in public housing and attended Franklin High School. He was 65.
Lee had “a long history of breaking barriers — he was the first member of his family to attend college then became the first Asian American to lead San Francisco,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
“He was a true public servant who championed civil rights,” Durkan added. “His loss is a loss for Seattle. From his hometown, our city sends our condolences to Ed’s friends, families, and colleagues as well as the residents of San Francisco — the city he loved so dearly.”
As mayor, Lee oversaw a tech-industry boom and grappled with a housing crisis while defending his city’s sanctuary policies toward immigrants. First elected in 2011, he persuaded voters to give him a second-term in 2015.
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He died at a San Francisco hospital surrounded by relatives, friends and colleagues, his office said. Lee was shopping at a neighborhood supermarket when he collapsed with a heart attack, Willie Brown, a former mayor of the city, told the San Francisco Examiner.
Lee had come a long way since his time in Seattle. He was the fifth of six children and his parents – who hailed from a rural village in southeast China – struggled to make ends meet.
His father worked as a cook and his mother as a seamstress, according to a San Francisco Chronicle story last year about Lee’s push to renovate thousands of units of public housing in the Bay Area city.
Working alongside his father, Lee witnessed racism, he recalled in a 2013 interview with Fortune.
“There were a couple of incidents in the restaurant where he had to take food to Caucasian customers and he would get cursed out” and called racial epithets, he said.
After his father suffered a fatal heart attack, Lee washed dishes at the Ruby Chow restaurant, he told the Chronicle. “I was a sophomore,” he said, remembering life on Beacon Hill. “We were in shock. But we did sense that all of us were going to have to go to work.”
At Franklin, Lee was mentored by older student Gary Locke,…