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Sanghak (Sam) Choi was born in a rural farming village in S. Korea on July 23, 1934, and became a loving father and husband, successful businessman, and longtime community leader in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He passed away on July 23, 2019, surrounded by family and friends, 15 years after a successful lung transplant that saved his life in 2004. He is survived by his wife Kilcha of 56 years, daughters Julie and Jane, son John, and grandchildren Sofia and Sebastian.
He was raised primarily by his oldest sister after losing both parents and grandparents early in his childhood, and he was eternally grateful to her for taking care of him and putting him through university. In 1958, he was the first graduate of the English language department from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He also received a master’s degree in public administration at Seoul National University. He immediately began working in foreign service for the Korean government and, in 1963, became foreign press officer for the then-Korean Ministry of Culture and Information, which involved working at the Korean embassies in Japan, the U.S. and Canada.
It was in 1963 when he married his magnificent wife of 56 years, Kilcha, and started his family. With work assignments in different countries every three years, he and Kilcha had three children – Julie, Jane and John – and raised them in Korea, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.
After two decades working as a diplomat, political changes in the Korean government led to his starting a new life in the U.S. with his family to support, first as a partner in the import-export business, then as the owner of several dry cleaning establishments. After two more decades working at his dry cleaning stores, he and industry leaders saw a need for a liaison with other owners and workers in the industry of Korean descent, and he joined then-International Fabricare Institute (IFI) as a vice president to help everyone share information and knowledge throughout the U.S. He was also an active and leading member of his local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs in Maryland.
In his sixties, Sanghak began to have difficulties with his breathing and was found to be suffering from pulmonary fibrosis. He had been breathing with the aid of oxygen tanks when, at the age of 71, a brave lung surgeon believed Sanghak was otherwise in excellent health and could undergo a lung transplant operation, although other major hospitals in the U.S. had determined he was too old and too high a risk. Within a month, a lung donor was found and he underwent a successful transplant operation, which allowed he and his family and friends to enjoy another 15 years together.
Visitation will begin at 5:30pm on Friday, July 26, 2019 at The Shrine of St. Jude Catholic Church, 12701 Veirs Mill Road, Rockville, MD 20853, where the Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 6:00pm. Interment will take place at 1:00pm on Friday, August 2, 2019 at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 13801 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20906.