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Lee Hee-ho: Woman stood for Kim Dae-jung

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In this photo from June 14, 2000, the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, second from right, his wife Lee Hee-ho, third from right, and Kim Yong-nam, right, North Korean chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, watch as a boy paints a sign which reads "National Unification" at Mangyongdae Students' and Childrens' Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea. It was the day when the late former president began his second day of a three-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. AP-Yonhap
By Michael Breen

In 1958, when she returned to Korea after four years of study in the United States, Lee Hee-ho pledged not to marry.

Women today may be able to relate to her decision, but back then it was a tough choice. Koreans were poor and their politics and culture were male-centric and authoritarian. A woman over 26 and still single was already written off as an "old maid." That she intended to endure a lifetime of such judgment says something about her devotion to her work to benefit society and the standard she had held for any man who would come into her life.

She found a job as a Christian activist at the YMCA where she headed the international relations department. Then she met the man who would change her mind, Kim Dae-jung, the figure who now more than any other is associated with the struggle for democracy. The first democratically elected opposition president, Kim would go on to win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

Lee was such a profound moral influence on Kim that it is unlikely that he would have achieved the prominence he did without her. She was not outwardly political, but such was her grace and moral strength, as well as her contribution to the improvement of women's rights, that her passing yesterday drew........

© The Korea Times