On Saturday, we lost a community hero.
Bob Santos, who died at the age of 82, was known as Uncle Bob community-wide. As a lifelong friend of my wife Dorina’s family, Bob was to me a true uncle, mentor and friend who I have known, respected and admired for decades.
Uncle Bob was a community organizer, a civil rights activist, a proud local Filipino-American, and for many, a hero because of his constant and consistently effective advocacy for those whose voices were not heard and whose lives were not appreciated.
One of the Four Amigos* and de facto mayor of Seattle’s Chinatown/International District, Bob was a pillar of the beloved community and leader of Seattle’s historic multi-racial organizing efforts in the ’60s, ’70s and beyond. He had a tremendous positive impact on affordable housing, community development in the ID, and many other issues.
I’m grateful for all that Uncle Bob has done for our community. And I’m sad that we will no longer experience his friendly smile, hugs, stories and encouragement for our work.
Dorina’s youngest brother Kenneth, or KK, lived with learning challenges and struggled with health issues and homelessness near the end of his life. KK was also a regular at Bob’s legendary Tuesday night karaoke sessions at the Bush Gardens Restaurant. Uncle Bob always supported and protected KK and helped him into stable housing. No matter how many difficulties KK faced, we always knew that if Bob was singing karaoke, KK was with him. We felt blessed by the love and kindness Uncle Bob had for KK.
As a member of Rep. Mike Lowry’s staff and later Regional Director of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Santos helped develop and establish our national response to the growing issue of homelessness.
Solid Ground’s Senior Adviser Frank Chopp worked closely with Santos on many issues, including converting a portion of Naval Station Puget Sound into housing for formerly homeless people at Magnuson Park, Sand Point.
“Bob Santos was a wonderful leader who inspired thousands of people,” Chopp says. “His legacy of work, force of personality, and great sense of humor will be long remembered. We are proud to keep his memory and spirit alive by having his name on one of the low-income housing buildings at Sand Point. Santos Place is a testament to Bob’s commitment to housing and community.”
Uncle Bob, I celebrate your life and accomplishments comforted in the knowledge that after a lifetime of service to others, you can now rest in peace and love.
*The Four Amigos, or Gang of Four were Bob Santos, Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas and Larry Gossett. As Santos wrote in the forward to the recently published Gang of Four, they “changed the face of the city in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by bringing four ethnic groups together in battle against city, county, and state power brokers over development, poverty, fishing rights, and gentrification. The four leaders quickly learned that working together provided greater results than working apart.” The four leaders were recognized by Solid Ground’s Local Heroes project and are seen in this original painting by local artist Al Doggett, which hangs in Solid Ground’s community resource center at 1501 N 45th Street in Seattle.