Kwangjai Park was born in Wonsan, Korea in October, 1934 and died in Eugene, Oregon on March 21, 2014. His patience, humor, kindness, intellectual curiosity and integrity made him a beloved family man, scientist, educator and friend.
Kwangjai came to the United States in 1953 from Pusan, Korea, where his family was living as refugees near the end of the Korean War. He was a teenager alone in a strange country, working nights as a hotel clerk and attending high school in Monterey, California. After graduation, he was granted a four year scholarship to attend Harvard University, where he studied Electrical Engineering. He married and moved to California, and eventually finished a PhD in Physics from University of California at Berkeley. He brought his family to Eugene in 1966 when he became a professor of physics at the University of Oregon. He remained in the Eugene area for the next 48 years.
Kwangjai’s name is composed of the Chinese characters in Genesis 1:3 that mean “There was Light.” His study of physics included many years of work with optics, the study of light, although he also made contributions in the fields of fluid dynamics and atmospheric science. As a scientist, Kwangjai was scrupulous in his search for what could be found to be true about the known universe. He always acknowledged the possibility of spiritual phenomena, but felt inadequate to describe or explore what could not be measured or subjected to experimental rigor. He found great beauty and elegance in the essential nature of the material universe, and delighted in explaining, or better yet demonstrating, the properties of matter in its various states. He was an inspired teacher, and a really interesting person to hang around with.
His first marriage came to an end, and in 1974 he married Helen (Hodson) Park. Helen was a member of the Eugene Friends Meeting and over the years, Kwangjai became a part of the Quaker community through dear friendships with Friends. He enjoyed the potlucks, picnics and parties, but shied from any spiritual profession until near the end of life. Then, in his last few months, after suffering years of debilitating pain and disability from Parkinsons disease, degenerative disc disease and primary progressive aphasia, he suddenly became aware of his inner spiritual journey. He opened his heart and mind to revelation and was flooded with visions of God, Light, miracles, mathematics, physics, and love. He was comforted and excited by these visions, and searched for a context to explain the connections between his rational investigations and the mystical experiences he was having. He turned to Quakers, and read the writings of George Fox and Thomas Kelly. He applied for membership in the Eugene Monthly Meeting and met three times with a clearness committee, who were amazed by his insights. His convincement was acknowledged and Kwangjai was welcomed into membership in the Society of Friends on February 23, 2014 during a deeply gathered and worshipful meeting. Kwangjai felt called to God, and in what he experienced as a true leading, on March 21st he chose to hasten the end of his life through Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. Friends gathered in his home as he was dying, and many experienced a powerful sense of Divine presence.
His life and death served as an example of love, integrity, courage, faith in one’s ideals and openness to change. Kwangjai is survived by his wife Helen, five children, nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, a sister and three brothers and their families, all of whom he loved dearly. He will be greatly missed.