Park the activist

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Park the activist

The author is a Washington correspondentof the JoongAng Ilbo.

A long time ago, I often met with civic activist Park Won-soon. This was shortly after he established the Beautiful Store inspired by British charity organization Oxfam. If citizens donated goods, volunteers would fix them and sell them for a profit, the funds supporting those in need. Secondhand and recycling stores existed in Korea, but Beautiful Store distinguished itself through sophisticated channeling of recycling resources, donations, volunteering and sharing.

Park needed PR for his business model. He came to the JoongAng Ilbo and proposed a joint campaign. The genius persuaded the newspaper by addressing the public nature of the media. Until the 21st store opened, the “Beautiful Store with the JoongAng Ilbo” campaign ran for nearly two years. One page was allocated weekly, and I was in charge as I was just the right person, neither a junior nor a senior.

I frequently met Park for planning meetings and event coverage. He was man of great ideas. He diligently collected new information in Korea and other countries, absorbed it and knew how to apply it to his organization. He always carried a big backpack filled with resources and a thick Franklin planner. He looked as if he were carrying a library.

It is common to see people studying at cafés or using shared office spaces these days. But back then, a nomadic worker was hard to find, especially among middle-aged Korean men. Park was forward in thinking and acting. The schedules in his planner were standard for managing people at the time.

I met him again in Washington DC last January. The Seoul Mayor held a correspondent meeting during his U.S. tour. He proposed that military exercises should be suspended on the Korean Peninsula until 2022. After serving nine years as the Mayor of Seoul, he had become a seasoned politician. When I asked him if he was preparing to run for president, he smiled humbly, but I also spotted a sharp gaze. His hair looked very plentiful, suited for a man of power.

I noticed Park’s lawyerly traits during the last moment of his life. Did his legal knowledge compel him to avoid legal issues he may have faced? When a complaint for sexual harassment for four years was filed, he killed himself, and now the case is closed. A grand memorial service was held at the Seoul City Hall, which the victim alleges was the site of the incidents. I want to remember him only as a civic activist, as he was a great one at the time.
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