Paul Mar and Phil Ginsberg • Courtesy

Paul Mar, a self-described “native son” of Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID), passed away this morning at the age of 83 after battling cancer and falling at his home in Newcastle, Washington, in late January.

As news of his death spread quickly by word of mouth throughout the day, the sorrow expressed itself in tears and endless stories about Mar’s remarkable ability to nudge community foes beyond political and personality differences to find practical solutions to any and all problems.

For over a half century, Mar worked on the frontline of the community nonprofit sector in the CID, supervising major construction projects for the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), International Community Health Services (ICHS), and the Wing Luke Museum. He also served on many other boards.

“He was a brilliant, quiet leader who could solve the unsolvable with patience and wisdom,” said Sue Taoka, former executive director of SCIDpda. “He was our Jedi.”

“Uncle Paul always made himself available for sage counsel and problem-busting strategies, said Joël B. Tan, executive director of the Wing Luke Museum. “Our museum ohana is heartbroken and inspired to carry forward Uncle Paul’s legacy and influence as a decades-long museum board member and benefactor.”

Mar’s brother, Larry, said, “As a philanthropist, Paul was unusual. He gives his money away, but he doesn’t just stand back. He’s very active in doing the work of the project, too.”

Larry Mar added, “Paul was stubborn. If he thinks it should be done a certain way, then he’s very set. If you want anything different, you’d better be prepared to explain yourself well. Then he  would listen.” 

Paul Mar, born on June 24, 1940 to Melvin and Mabel Mar, lived the first two years of life in the back of the Excel Barbershop in the spot now occupied by the Purple Dot Restaurant. He attended Garfield High School and the University of Washington, earning a degree in engineering.

For many years, Mar served as a board member of SCIDpda, staff member, and trusted advisor. His major achievements included the construction of the International District Village Square complex and restoration of the historic Bush Hotel. He was part of the leadership team that converted the East Kong Yick Building into the permanent home for the Wing Luke Museum during a gritty five-year $23 million fundraising campaign.

At the time of his death, he was on the steering committee for a $25 million to build an “aging-in-place” senior care facility on the north parking lot of the Pacific Medical Center on Beacon Hill part of a larger SCIDpda housing development dubbed Beacon Pacific Village.

Three years ago, Mar moved to Aegis Living in Newcastle after going blind from glaucoma. Undeterred, he continued as a strategic advisor and donor to SCIDpda and ICHS until his final months. 

International Community Health Services (ICHS) CEO Kelli Nomura and Paul Mar in the fall • Courtesy

On November 11, his partner of 27 years, Jan Tanabe succumbed to heart disease. Mar served as emcee for a celebration of life for Tanabe on January 27. 

Two days later, Mar fell at home, never recovering.

“Paul had a lot of energy at the event,” said Tanabe’s daughter Kelly Yamamoto. “Other people commented on that. I think he held out for the party. But afterwards, he was not the same. After his fall, he never left his bed. He stopped eating. He died of a broken heart.” 

Both Yamamoto and Larry Mar noted that Jan and Paul were born two days apart and both passed away at the age of 83.

Mar is preceded in death by his wife Rosalind Mar; life partner Jan Tanabe; and survived by his younger brother Larry Mar (Losa Wong) of Alameda, California; two nieces and four nephews.

Mar’s family directs contributions be made to the Wing Luke Museum and ICHS’s AiPACE campaign Aging in PACE Washington.

There are plans to hold a celebration of life for Paul Mar in the near future.

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