A Tribute to One of CAIS’s Founders—Justice Harry Low

December 10, 2021

Justice Harry LowWe are deeply saddened to share that one of CAIS’s founders and San Francisco’s first Asian American judge, Harry Low, has passed. The SF Standard reports that his family confirmed he died Thursday at 90 in San Francisco (see the in memoriam article at this link). Justice Low had decades of judicial experience in civil, criminal, and government law and authored opinions on virtually every area of California law. He served as Insurance Commissioner for the State of California; Presiding Justice for the Court of Appeal, 1st District, and judge for San Francisco County Superior Court and San Francisco Municipal Court. He received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association, and the Judge Lowell Jensen Public Service Award, from Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley, his alma mater. He was former president of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and San Francisco Police Commission.

CAIS owes an enormous debt to Justice Low. CAIS Founder Carol Ruth Silver reflects, “I will miss [then Judge] Harry Low, for his wit and wisdom, but particularly for his role in creating what is now Chinese American International School. On a regular Court work day in the late 1970’s, with some trepidation, I followed Judge Low into his judicial chambers as he ended his court cases for the day, at the San Francisco Superior Court. Being an attorney, I was taking advantage of certain informal access, and I asked him for a few minutes of his time, assuring him that it did not concern a pending case. It was forty or more years ago, and court security was still lax. Quickly, I laid out my vision for a Mandarin Chinese Immersion school in San Francisco. He listened ‘judiciously’ as was befitting his position and his disposition. Rather than the few minutes I had requested, our conversation lasted close to an hour, and at the end he said, ‘This is an important project, and I will support it.’ At that time, Judge Low was the most prominent Chinese-American figure in the city of San Francisco; not only was he beloved in the Chinese-American community, but he was beloved and respected in the San Francisco community at large. His support was extremely important, and I will forever be grateful for his contacts, his endorsement, and his encouragement.”

In an interview on the 25th Anniversary of CAIS, Justice Low shared, “It was our belief that by instilling an international perspective through the study of language, culture and the arts, we could open the doors to the world for children who studied at CAIS. Learning a foreign language, especially Chinese, would increase the students’ appreciation of other languages and cultures. We all agreed that it would provide a global, intellectual outlook in our students and encourage respect for diverse cultures.”

Responding to a question about the challenges he foresaw for CAIS in the future he answered, “One issue is space. CAIS enrollment will soon reach maximum capacity and shared space between the French American International School and CAIS continues to be competitive, as each school needs more class and meeting rooms. The original goal of Chinese-English language and cultural immersion education needs constant review and bold steps to maintain its relevance to modern society. Future strategic plans must be made to perpetuate growth and sustainability.”

While Justice Low knew that CAIS had secured the campus at 19th Avenue, we are especially saddened that he will not be able to see CAIS inhabit our forever home. We will always be grateful for him as one of the visionaries who put us on the path to our bright future ahead.