March 19, 1930 - August 2, 2007
Born second of five children to a prominent family in Anhui, China, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao was named in honor of the Chinese folklore heroine, Hua Mulan. The name proved prophetic because Ruth displayed many of the same qualities of character courage and resolve. Her father, Wei Qian Chu, was a member of the Judiciary Yuan. Her mother, Hui Ying Tien, was known for her kindness, generosity and fairness. The family promoted many progressive ideals that included encouraging their daughters to pursue higher education, which was extraordinary given the times.
During the ensuing turmoil that engulfed China, her family fled Anhui. To retrieve family valuables that were essential for their survival, Ruth was sent on clandestine missions to recover the gold hidden in the walls and yards of their estate. The journey was dangerous as it required her to pass through various military checkpoints set up by invading military forces and lawless territories. By memorizing the elaborate directions, she found the gold and then sewed it into the lining of her jacket, which allowed her to pass undetected. Gold intact, she would reunite with her family. She was less than ten years old.
Later, to escape the ravages of Nanjing, Ruth was sent to school in Jiading, a city on the outskirts of Shanghai. There, she met James Si-Cheng Chao. He was immediately smitten and fell in love. But, the war prevented a courtship. In 1949, each separately relocated to Taiwan. James’ search for Ruth took more than a year. They eventually found each other, wed in 1951 and had three daughters.
In 1958, James moved to the United States to seek a better life for his family. Because of limited resources, James emigrated first. Even though Ruth was seven months pregnant with their third child, she encouraged him to go. This separation lasted a long lonely three years, but they wrote each other letter filled with love and encouragement. In 1961, they could finally reunite as a family. Ruth embarked upon a month-long journey aboard a cargo ship bound for the United States, the sole adult female, with her three young daughters.
Like many other immigrants, Ruth’s and James’ initial years in America were filled with hardship. They faced these difficulties with grace, optimism, and determination. Ruth was the anchor of the family that grew to include six accomplished daughters.
Modest and unassuming, Ruth could have contented herself with her successful life. Yet, at the age of fifty- three, she earned a Master’s degree in Asian Literature and history from St. John’s University. Moreover, she never forgot those less fortunate. Ruth and James created a number of charitable foundations that, to date, have provided more that 5,000 scholarships to students in need.
A gentle soul, Ruth enjoyed painting, composing Chinese poetry, and writing Chinese calligraphy. Deep religious faith, family and community were the pillars of her life. Selfless, virtuous and devoted to duty, she changed history in her own quiet and dignified way without fanfare but with tremendous impact.
On August 2, 2007, Ruth succumbed after a valiant seven year battle with lymphoma and returned home to the Lord. Her celebration of life service was held on August 11, 2007.