Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, 2006 Ra­mon Magsaysay Award re­cip­i­ent, found dead

Published July 11, 2020, 7:27 AM

by Jonathan Hicap

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a re­cip­i­ent of the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award, was found dead by au­thor­i­ties hours af­ter he went miss­ing Thurs­day, Korean me­dia re­ported.

He was 64.

This handout photo taken and released on July 10, 2020 by the Seoul city government shows a memorial for the late Seoul mayor Park Won-soon at the Seoul National University hospital in Seoul. (AFP PHOTO / SEOUL CITY GOVERNMENT / MANILA BULLETIN)

His body was found past mid­night on July 10 (July 9 in the Philip­pines) at Mount Bukak in Seoul. His death was an ap­par­ent case of sui­cide, Yon­hap News re­ported.

His daugh­ter filed a re­port with the po­lice about his dis­ap­pear­ance at about 5:17 p.m. lo­cal time on July 9, say­ing he “left home four to five hours ago af­ter leav­ing words like a will, with his phone cur­rently off,” the news agency added.

A day be­fore Park’s dis­ap­pear­ance, his for­mer sec­re­tary, who started work­ing for him in 2017, went to the po­lice to file a com­plaint of sex­ual as­sault against him for un­wanted phys­i­cal con­tact.

Park was born on March 26, 1956 in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang Prov­ince, South Korea. He was accepted as a law stu­dent at the pres­ti­gious Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity. 

How­ever, at age 19 dur­ing his freshman year, he joined a demon­stra­tion against the regime of Pres­i­dent Park Chunghee, fa­ther of for­mer South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye, who was im­peached and is now in prison for cor­rup­tion scan­dal. He was jailed for four months re­sult­ing in his ex­pul­sion from the univer­sity.

In 1982, he served as dis­trict at­tor­ney at Daegu Dis­trict Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice, and earned an In­ter­na­tional Law diploma from the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics in 1991. He be­came the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Beau­ti­ful Foun­da­tion from 2002 to 2010.

He was first elected as mayor of Seoul in 2011 and was re­elected to the po­si­tion in 2014 and 2018, his last term.

In 2006, Park re­ceived the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award for pub­lic ser­vice for “his prin­ci­pled ac­tivism fos­ter­ing so­cial jus­tice, fair busi­ness prac­tices, clean gov­ern­ment, and a gen­er­ous spirit in South Korea’s young democ­racy,” ac­cord­ing to the award’s web­site.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award Foun­da­tion web­site, in 1994, “he gave up his law prac­tice to co-found the Peo­ple’s Sol­i­dar­ity for Par­tic­i­pa­tory Democ­racy (PSPD), a grass­roots cru­sade against cor­rupt pub­lic of­fi­cials.”

He then founded the Beau­ti­ful Foun­da­tion, with the aim of rekin­dling “Korean habits of gen­eros­ity and to pop­u­lar­ize phi­lan­thropy.”

In ac­cept­ing the award, Park said, “I al­ways thought that good work could not be achieved by one per­son but by a group of peo­ple who share a com­mon dream and com­mon goals. This award is a re­sult of not only my work but the work we have done to­gether to make a bet­ter world. There are peo­ple who re­ally care about our so­ci­ety, peo­ple who dream about a new al­ter­na­tive world with all of their be­ing, and peo­ple who are will­ing to be mem­bers and con­trib­ute money for a com­mon cause and the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

He added, “The Peo­ple’s Sol­i­dar­ity for Par­tic­i­pa­tory Democ­racy and The Beau­ti­ful Foun­da­tion have both played an im­por­tant role in Korean so­ci­ety and have changed the lives of Korean peo­ple. We have walked the path of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion and hu­man­iza­tion in the face of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in much the same way as the Filipino peo­ple have. We have all come a long way.”

“I deeply ap­pre­ci­ate this award and ex­tend my bless­ing to the Pres­i­dent of the Magsaysay Award Foun­da­tion, its trustees, and all you dis­tin­guished at­ten­dants. To­day, I re­gard this most honor­able Magsaysay Award as a con­stant re­minder for me to be more dili­gent and con­sis­tent in my po­lit­i­cal jour­ney with all of my friends — friends just like you,” he said.

Park is sur­vived by his wife Kang Nang-hee and chil­dren Park Da-in and Park Ju-sin. He will be re­placed by Seo Jeong-hyup, the first vice mayor for ad­min­is­tra­tive af­fairs. He will be the act­ing mayor un­til a new elec­tion is held in April, 2021, ac­cord­ing to Korean me­dia.