Dick Choy Low, a Chinese refugee who earned a full ride to UC Berkeley before quitting to serve in the military and run a string of successful businesses, died of cancer last Tuesday at his Healdsburg home. He was 75.
Born June 8, 1937, Low, also known as Low Moon-Fay, was the oldest of five children born to Mon-Heung and Howard Low.
Low emigrated to the United States when he was 8, assuming the name — and age — of a legal citizen in a practice known as "paper names," said his son, Darrin Low of Healdsburg.
Low graduated from Merced High School in 1958 and went to Cal on a full academic scholarship. He left Berkeley after two years, choosing instead to enter the Air Force.
"My grandfather always told him that people who go to college work for other people and people who don't go to college were the bosses," Darrin Low said. "That was one motivation" for leaving school.
It was while he was in the Air Force that Low became a legal citizen — and took back his given name — after President John F. Kennedy overhauled immigration policies.
After four years in the military, he opened a grocery in Nevada City, an operation he ran until 1972 when he moved his young family to Sacramento to run a small grocery for five years.
A business group approached Low in 1977 and convinced him to take a chance on a larger grocery operation that had failed in Healdsburg.
"The thing about my dad was he was the patriarch of the family. Wherever he went, the family followed," Darrin Low said.
He ran D-Mart Supermarket and later opened the nearby Tip Top Cafe and Tip Top Liquor Warehouse — a business that caused a stir with its garish paint job — always employing family members.
"He was the oldest son of a Chinese family, which holds particular responsibility in a Chinese family," Darrin Low said.
The cafe on Dry Creek Road became popular among a slew of regulars, Darrin Low said.
"It was open 24 hours. We saw the same people," he said. "It would be like a gathering place for a lot of the working class in Healdsburg."
Low believed in hard work and was ever the optimist, his son said.
"He was quick to smile and laugh with you, but for the most part he was a shy person," he said.
Low sold the grocery store in 1995 and the restaurant and liquor store in 1999.
In retirement, he traveled the world, including a trip in 2000 in which he took his family to China — his only return trip since leaving as a child.
"It was a pretty amazing experience," Darrin Low said.
In addition to his son Darrin, Low is survived by his wife of 44 years, May Low of Healdsburg; son Derrick Low of San Francisco; daughter Michelle Low of Loveland, Colo.; brother Darryl Low-Yock of Healdsburg; sisters Mary Pon of San Francisco, Sally Yock of Santa Rosa and Donna Fitzgerald of Santa Rosa; and three grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at noon Tuestoday at the Windsor-Healdsburg Mortuary, 9660 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor. Entombment will follow at Oakmound Cemetery, 601 Piper St., Healdsburg. Immediately after entombment, a reception will be held at Divine Pizza, 20 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg.