Tom Chinn, a veteran Sacramento political figure and Asian community leader who served on the City Council from 1983 to 1992, has died at age 85.
He died Saturday of complications related to age at an assisted living center in Pleasant Hill, where he lived the last two years, said his daughter Patti Lew.
Besides a 37-year professional career in state government, Chinn devoted himself to public service as an elected official for more than two decades. Before entering politics, he belonged to civic organizations and was active in groups and attended events in the Asian American community.
He won a seat on the Sacramento City Unified School District board from 1971 to 1983, including several years as president.
He went on to serve two terms on the City Council representing District 4, including the Land Park and South Land Park areas.
Chinn spent nine years on the council as a moderate politician who generally supported economic development and business interests. An engineer by training, he studied issues thoroughly and often pressed staff for answers to detailed questions.
He tangled with environmentalists and midtown activists on housing and planning issues.
Regardless of majority opinion, he was tough-minded in his views.
"Tom was very dedicated to whatever he did," said former Mayor Anne Rudin. "He wasn't afraid to say what he thought, but he always presented his point of view in a very reasonable and respectful way."
After announcing he would not seek re-election in 1992, Chinn supported Jimmie Yee, who won and held the seat for 12 years on the council.
Now a Sacramento County supervisor, Yee remembered Chinn fondly as "a mentor and a friend."
He also praised Chinn, who was the third Asian American elected to the City Council, as a trailblazer.
"He was one of the biggest contributors to local government from our Asian community," Yee said. "I always looked up to him as a model."
The youngest of 12 children of Chin Chong Dung and Leung Shee, Thomas Chinn was born in 1926 in San Francisco and grew up in Chinatown. He was raised by siblings after his parents, Chinese immigrants who were merchants, both died when he was a boy.
He was an Army sergeant first class in the 11th Armored Division during World War II. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, participated in the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp and received the Bronze Star for bravery.
He earned a mechanical engineering degree from UC Berkeley in 1948 and settled in Sacramento. He graduated from McGeorge School of Law in 1959 but gave up plans to practice law.
Instead, Chinn climbed the ranks in the state General Services Division and oversaw construction of public schools. He retired as deputy state architect.
He was married for 67 years to his wife, Bobbie. They lived in the Little Pocket neighborhood for 50 years and had four children, including daughter Terry, who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at age 9. He also was predeceased by an adult daughter, Jacki Lee.
Chinn spent five years as a Sacramento-Yolo Port District commissioner.
After retiring from career and politics, he enjoyed photography and volunteered as a supporter of the city's Belle Cooledge branch library. He also was a computer enthusiast.
"He enjoyed working with computers before they were as widely used as they are today," said his son Tim. "He made copies of everything on floppy disks."