Eddie Yoon, proud Lincoln Abe and the state’s first Korean attorney, has died

Eddie Yoon
Eddie Yoon Lisa Yoon Reynolds

A Tacoma-area attorney who was the first Korean to practice law in Washington state has died.

Eddie Yoon worked for many years in Pierce County after he was admitted to the state bar in 1976, according to News Tribune archives.

“He helped a lot of people in the Korean community who couldn’t afford adequate legal representation,” his daughter, Lisa Yoon Reynolds, told The News Tribune.

Yoon Reynolds said her father died Dec. 30 of cancer at age 70 in Pohang, Korea.

Yoon spoke no English when he immigrated to the United States as a child, his family said.

He attended Pacific Lutheran University on a football scholarship and then studied law at the University of Washington on an academic scholarship.

Yoon worked as an assistant Tacoma city attorney early in his career and ultimately became a solo practitioner.

Once he sued Japanese companies on behalf of a Korean native who said he was forced to do slave labor during World War II, The News Tribune reported.

He also ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the state Supreme Court in 1984 and again in 2014, according to the newspaper’s archives.

“I believe that my legal ability is evidenced by the fact that I took two cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is unheard of for a solo attorney,” he wrote in his candidate statement for the 2014 voters’ pamphlet.

News Tribune archives from the 1980s say that Yoon often served as a spokesman for Pierce County’s Korean community. For example, he interpreted for visiting dignitaries when Tacoma was working to create a sister-city relationship with Kunsan, Korea.

He also served for a time as director of the Puget Sound Korean Association and was a member of the Korean Society of Tacoma.

In recent years Yoon split his time between the Puget Sound and Korea, where he taught constitutional law at Ewha Women’s Law School.

“In his professorship he was a champion of women,” Yoon Reynolds said. “He told me that he wanted them to know that they can kick ass.”

The mantra he wrote for his students on the whiteboard the first day of class was: “There is no one better than me.”

Yoon Reynolds also said her father stayed close with his classmates from Lincoln High School, where he was an all-city halfback on the football team.

“He’s just beloved by all of his Lincoln Abes,” she said.

He helped coordinate the class’s 50-year reunion a couple years ago, high school friend Janet Lepore told The News Tribune.

Lepore said Yoon’s visits to the Tacoma-area were often a reason for everyone to get together for dinner.

“Eddie really was the life of the party,” she said. “This guy had more energy than the Energizer Bunny. You never saw him that he wasn’t laughing or telling a story.”

Longtime friend Larry Stemp played football with Yoon at Lincoln.

He remembers that Yoon quickly grasped English and that he was an honor roll student.

They both came from modest upbringings and worked hard to build their careers, Stemp said.

“He put a tremendous amount of energy into becoming successful,” Stemp said. “... Obviously to become the first Korean attorney in the state, he worked hard.”

Yoon is survived by his wife, daughter, son-in-law and young granddaughter.