Paull Shin’s gracious exit

Paull Shin breathes life into the American dream. That’s not syrup for a man who is leaving public life. Shin’s personal narrative is Citizenship 101.

“He is the true citizen-servant,” said former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel. At Shoreline Community College, Shin’s classes always were over-enrolled. A beloved college professor, he navigated the long road from English learner to GED completion to a University of Washington doctorate.

Shin exhibited integrity and compassion his whole public career, from professor to the corridors of the state senate. His final act, a letter Tuesday that announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and senate resignation, reveals the very qualities that endear him to his constituents and friends alike. For many, Alzheimer’s carries a stigma. With dignity and candor, Shin erodes that stigma.

Shin’s story is as Dickensian as it is inspiring. He was a street orphan in Korea, adopted by an American soldier during the war. (Hence, the unusual spelling of his first name, “Paull,” to memorialize the surname of his adopted family.)

Shin didn’t attend school in Korea and had to learn to read in both English and Korean. He consumed knowledge like water. The Korean street orphan who earned a doctorate would go on to chair the Senate Higher Education Committee. There Shin carved a permanent legacy, passing along the very gift that elevated him.

“Paull Shin has been a stalwart supporter and true friend of higher education over his many years in the Legislature, and his strong voice and keen perception on higher education issues — along with his vote — will be missed,” said UW President Michael Young. “He has particularly been a friend of Korean Studies at the University of Washington and his efforts over the years have helped strengthen this important area of study.”

Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) reflected Wednesday, “It’s such a loss for our state. He’s a humble man and a smart man,” Pearson said. “He brings such a peace to the senate. We all love him — everybody.”

Pearson and Shin co-chaired the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Has Shin been a bipartisan lawmaker? “He makes decisions based on what’s best for everybody,” Pearson said.

Pearson and Shin know that successful lawmaking is about relationships and keeping your word.

Surviving on the streets, Shin became a de facto politician, skills that served him well during 17 years in the state house and senate representing south Snohomish County’s 21st legislative district.

Will we look upon his like again? In an era of partisan gridlock, we need more Paull Shin’s. Immigrants nourish this country; new citizens, women and men of integrity, need to gravitate to public service, to emulate Paull Shin.

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