• Gloria Hom is receiving a Lifetimes of Achievement award on May 19. Read all about the 2019 honorees.
Midtown resident Gloria Hom has held many roles in her life: the economist; the wife, mother of three and grandmother; the educator, politician and civic leader. This month, she becomes a recipient of the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award, recognizing her decades of work in education and her service to the Palo Alto community.
Generations of students owe their understanding of economics and political science to the 79-year-old, who taught political science and economics for 35 years, first at Foothill College, then at De Anza College and later at the West Valley-Mission Community College District. She helped shape education policy by serving on the board of the California State University (CSU) system and as a member of the California State Board of Education.
She's received state and federal recognition for her work, having been named "Outstanding Educator of America" and trustee emeritus for CSU. She also received the Seal of California in recognition of her tenure on the California State Board of Education.
Hom was also active politically. She attended every Republican National Convention from 1980 through 2008. President Ronald Reagan appointed her to serve on the Advisory Council of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services and President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the Sallie Mae board of directors.
Born in San Francisco, she is a fourth-generation Californian. Her mother was the daughter of the founder of Bayside Cannery in Alviso, once the third largest in the country after Del Monte and Libby's, according to a Midtown Residents Association historical biography. (Bayside had a location in Palo Alto at the site of Fry's Electronics.) Her father came to the U.S. as a graduate student at Stanford University and became a Chinese diplomat.
After her parents wed, her father was posted in Malaya (known today as Malaysia) as a Nationalist Chinese government diplomat. The outbreak of World War II created hardships for the family. Hom was little more than a toddler when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded. Her mother took two of her children, including Hom, and a single suitcase and evacuated to China, Hom said. Her father could not leave until he received diplomatic orders and remained behind with her younger sister. They would not be reunited until after the war ended.
Those experiences helped forge her own character, she said.
"From my father, I learned that problems are best solved with patience and respect," she recalled.
But her mother's handling of their predicament as the enemy invaded made the deepest impression.
"My mother picked me up in one arm and carried us to safety. Her strength and courage that day is what I remember most," she recalled.
The war made China dangerous, and Hom's mother took the two daughters by freighter to San Francisco, where they lived with Hom's maternal grandmother in Chinatown. Hom's father joined them in 1945 after the war; her younger sister later reunited with the family after being found in the Malayan jungle by the American Red Cross, she said.
The family moved with her father to the Philippines after the war during the recovery and transitional period. Hom grew up in Southeast Asia until the family returned to San Francisco when she was 17. She attended Dominican University in San Rafael and married Peter Hom, an attorney. They moved to Palo Alto, which has been her home for more than 50 years, she said.
She studied at Stanford University under economist and Hoover Institution Fellow Rita Ricardo-Campbell, which got her a job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics as an economist. In the 1960s, she worked as an Internal Revenue Service auditor.
Hom later completed her master's degree in political science and economics at San Jose State University and got her doctorate in education at the University of San Francisco. In education, Hom found her true calling.
"The minute I walked onto the Foothill campus, I loved it. It was like a love affair to be on campus and meet students. I couldn't have imagined getting paid for doing this. I thought, 'This is the best job ever,'" she said.
Hom also ran for state Senate in the 12th congressional district in 1980, losing by 438 votes. She was relieved. She had more time to be with her children, she said.
She retired from teaching 13 years ago, but that hasn't slowed her. She takes writing classes and is working on a biography. She also gives tours of the back alleys of Chinatown to raise money for nonprofit organizations such as Avenidas, the Palo Alto Rotary and the Palo Alto Garden Club, she said.
Hom volunteered on the Channing House board for nine years and was a board member of the YMCA. A lover of libraries, she was one of the first to donate to the rebuilt Mitchell Park Library and was one of the first women to join the Rotary Club of Palo Alto, she said. Getting the Palo Alto History Museum built is her latest project.
Asked what advice she would give to younger people, she said: "Live every moment of your life. Have a passion. If you don't love your job, you won't be very successful at it," she said.