Pak Zai Sup 1916 – 2012


I found out this morning that my grandfather, Pak Zai Sup passed away.

I was able to say goodbye to him in April, when he was hospitalized for a very serious respiratory infection, and while his next move was to a hospice care facility, the idea of him being gone now is still difficult to digest.

I was born in Korea, and with a working mom, he and my grandmother helped to raise me. I have a million memories of life with them, and since they’re the earliest memories I have,  they’re the best. Grandpa was a strict and disciplined scholar, but with me he was a warm, loving grandfather. It was the housemaid who would scold me for playing with his calligraphy brushes in his office, and spilling the ink, never my grandfather. He was very much in love with my grandmother, and I lived in that love with them. Leaving them was hard, and as I grew up in the US, despite the annual visits, I spoke less and less Korean (eventually none) and they felt farther and farther away.

After my grandmother passed away, my parents tried to convince my grandfather to come live with us in the US. We moved into a huge house so we could have him there with us, but he never came. Leaving Korea wasn’t right for him then. He had his memories of grandma, his colleagues, friends, his tennis championships, his walks in the mountains, and his many students who still came to him for counsel.

Grandpa was a lifelong academic. He was the first in his family to go to University, and during the turbulent times of the Japanese occupation of Korea he began his studies of politics, government and International Law. He went on to become the Dean of the Law School at Korea University. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard and the University of Hawaii, and became an important voice in Korea after the war. His students went on to become Ambassadors, politicians, and University presidents and founders. He spoke eight languages, constantly studied long after retirement, and supported (emotionally and financially) his entire family. I am in constant awe of his legacy.

At the hospital in April, all of grandpa’s doctors and nurses bowed deeply and reverently to him. They called him “professor”. Family members that my mom hadn’t spoken to in decades came to visit and spend time with us in his room. My mom had to leave a day before I did, so I had one day alone with him and his excellent hospice nurse. Talking was difficult for him, so I brought a white board for us to write on.

Grandpa is now buried on our ancestral cemetery on a beautiful mountainside deep in the country. He’s there beside my grandmother and his father. I’ll visit him soon, and I’ll share my memories of an inspiring, generous, loving man with my Mongolian family and his great-grandchildren to be.

I love you, Grandpa.


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