My father, Kim Pham, was on his feet for the last time two Thursdays ago. Thursday is when the newspaper is prepared for the printer so that it can hit the streets on Friday. He was at his computer, putting the finishing touches on the front page. He loved this job, something he had been doing since he founded Northwest Vietnamese News in 1986. The next morning, when my brother brought him the print edition, he said, “the cover is beautiful. Let’s work on the next one.” That was the last cover page my father designed. He passed in his sleep this past Tuesday, March 30.
For as long as I can remember, the newspaper was like another child, a fourth sibling to my two younger brothers and I, Andy and Don. He took so much joy in elevating other people’s stories, especially those of younger Vietnamese Americans pursuing art, writing, journalism, and community-building work. I think he saw a younger version of himself in them.
My father loved sharing stories of our refugee community because he believed we as Vietnamese have much to be proud of, that we accomplished so much in the short time we’ve been in America. Before the pandemic, he would run around to different community events, sometimes three in one evening, and take photos. He especially loved showcasing grand openings of new Vietnamese-owned businesses and the reunions of Vietnamese veterans and classmates. He wanted to highlight positive-news, and was careful to maintain a balanced tone.
My father shied away from the spotlight himself. He preferred to promote others. A few years ago, he wanted to throw a reception to celebrate the publication of my book on the South Vietnamese military perspective. I resisted. I only agreed when he said, “The party isn’t for you. It’s for me and the newspaper, but I don’t want to say that.” He organized a sold-out reception with his best friend, the writer Pham Quoc Bao, professor Quyen Di, and favorite singers, Melanie NgaMy Tran and Cecilia Bach who flew into Seattle to share the stage.
Last December, he had a mild heart attack and the doctors discovered an inoperable aneurysm in his stomach. We were told he only had a few days, a few weeks left to live when we brought him home. He beat their expectations by four months. I moved back into my childhood home. We all lived together for the first time in over 20 years. Growing up, my parents worked all the time at the newspaper. Now that we were all working from home, we ate meals together every day, cooked lovingly by my mom and Don. My father told us often, “I have never been happier in my life.”
The only role Kim Pham loved more than being a newspaper publisher was being a father. He never pressured us to get high-paying jobs like many other Vietnamese parents. We felt he saw the light in each of us, and wanted to do whatever he could to make us shine brighter. He was encouraging, gentle, and generous. And he did that for our friends and so many others too. He would always ask about my Vietnamese American friends, listening for angles he could take to promote them in the newspaper.
He stayed alive long enough so he could properly honor in the newspaper his friends, like Dr. Dung Xuan Nguyen and Mr. Ben Tran along with Khoa Pham, who died too young. He held on to see Tommy Le’s family get justice.
I also encouraged my father to write his memoir. In the past, the thought of writing a memoir would have felt too self-promotional. Then he realized a memoir would be a way to promote other people. Before he got too weak, he stayed up late at night and woke up early in the morning to write. We often talked about the stories he remembered. He wrote by hand, then photographed his manuscript and his assistant editor, Dong Phuong Le would type it out. His memories flowed into weekly essays appearing in the newspaper. The memoir is set to be published by Khai Tri Publishing.
People have been asking what they can do. Please share your favorite stories of my father with us. We will include these stories in his memoir.
Julie Pham, 1 April 2021
Read the Vietnamese version: https://nvnorthwest.com/2021/04/nhung-ky-niem-sau-cung-de-nho-ve-bo-than-yeu/