Locke family: from houseboy to U.S. ambassador in two generations

March 9, 2011

A century after his grandfather first left China for the United States, where he worked as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was chosen by President Barack Obama to go to Beijing as U.S. ambassador.

USA/“More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamboat bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington state. A century later, his grandson will return to China as America’s top diplomat,” Obama said in announcing the nomination.

Locke’s grandfather returned to China, but the family moved back to the United States. Locke’s father came as a teenager and enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly before World War Two. He saw action in Normandy and on the march to Berlin. Later, he opened a grocery story in Seattle, where Locke worked while attending Seattle public schools before going to Yale University and Boston University’s law school.

“My father never imagined that one of his children could ever serve as the Secretary of Commerce in the United States of America,” Locke said. His father, who died in January, was “beaming with pride” when Locke was sworn in to that cabinet post, he said.

“I know that if he were still alive, it would be one of his proudest moments to see his son named as the United States ambassador to his ancestral homeland.”

Locke, a Democrat, spent two terms as Washington governor, the first Chinese American to serve as governor of of any U.S. state.  He was also the first Chinese American to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

The U.S. Senate must confirm Locke’s appointment to replace Jon Huntsman, a Republican, who is stepping down and mulling a run for the presidency.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama and Locke at announcement of  U.S. ambassador to China)

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