On May 30, 4:18 p.m., the funeral of Lee Woo Jeong, who passed away from cerebral hemorrhage and cardiac infarction at the age of 79, was held in Han Shin University. In honor of the deceased's life-long dedication to society, the funeral was held in the form of a social funeral, and social activists and women activists from all walks of life came to pay their respects.
Lee dedicated her life to women's emancipation, national reunification and theological advancement, and even in death, she wished to donate her cornea, symbolizing her desire to stand by her fellow women and watch their activities.
Lee's funeral also served to highlight the need to evaluate the lives of first generation women activists in Korea.
North Korean women defectors, the people that received Lee's abundant love and sympathy to the very end, became teary-eyed as soon as they stepped into the funeral parlor. Cho Yeon Ji, head of the Reunification Preparatory Women's Committee under the Democratic Association of Free Immigration, said, "I never expected her to leave us this way. It's heart breaking." She recalled, "Despite her ill health, she visited us to offer comfort, well aware of the loneliness of North Korean defectors living in South Korea."
Kim Jeong Rye, former Minister of Health and Welfare who also worked with the Korea Women Voters' League, said, "When I last met her two weeks ago, I said to her, "Take care of yourself, I'm glad to see you in good health.' Her sudden departure comes as a big shock." Kim described the departed as "a gentle, quiet and calm woman." She continued to reminisce, "From the 5th Republic onwards, the two of us had political differences and quite a few debates, but we shared a faith in active participation. I always told her that people like her have to be in politics. She is the only person I know who does not hesitate to at the call of justice and can draw reconciliation out of confrontation. It's such a pity that she had to leave us so soon."
Lee never married, and lived instead with her nephew's wife for 22 years. She recalls, "Aunt was a deeply compassionate person. She was particularly concerned about the North Korean women defectors, always wanting to help them. Occasionally, she would ask me, quite apologetically, to prepare a good meal for those women. The day of her death, she was in such good spirits when she stepped out of the house. I can still see her now. The things she left behind are mostly books, which I'm thinking of handing over to her followers when they open an exhibition hall for her." Lee, who gave freely of herself for the good of society, left freely as well, leaving behind no children and no fortune to speak of.
Lee was the first women activist in Korea to launch the progressive women's movement, as well as a peace activist who initiated civilian exchanges between the women of North and South Korea. She contributed significantly to expanding the women's movement, founding the Korea Women's Association United in 1987 and the Women for Peace in 1997.
In particular, Lee was the South Korean executive committee member in the 1991 'Asian Regional Peace and the Role of Women' Seminar, and orchestrated the historic visit by 30 South Korean women to Pyongyang in September of 1992, the first of its kind since the national division. Subsequently, Lee led the founding of a permanent organization between North Korea, South Korea and Japan, called the 'Executive Committee of the Asia Regional Peace and the Role of Women.' After the Women for Peace was founded, it launched various activities in support of peace education, peaceful reunification, arms reduction, North Korean women defector support and so on. One example is the unprecedented campaign to send milk powder to children and pregnant women in North Korea.
Lee was also a godmother to Christian women working for democracy and human rights. She implanted a sense of equality among Churchwomen, thereby contributing to the emergence of women theologians and leaders within the Church.
In 1992, Lee also became a member of 14th national council under the Peace and Democracy Party and contributed to forming the institutional framework for women's human rights. During the campaign to eradicate sex tourism in the seventies, Lee left a famous quote that is still remembered by women groups to this day. The director of general affairs in the Culture Ministry had tried to dissuade campaigners by saying that sex tourism was a necessary evil for the sake of earning foreign currency, to which Lee remonstrated, "If you think that sex tourism is such a patriotic industry, make your own daughter a sex worker. Then we'll stop our campaign."
Lee was always present in all political opposition matters, and was therefore subject to constant police investigation and surveillance. This jeopardized her career as a professor, which she eventually gave up without regrets.
Lee was more than happy to see the birth of The Women's News, the first women's newspaper in Korea. She participated actively in the paper's affairs, showing great interest and affection in its progress and spending the last four years of her life as the paper's advisor.
As an embodiment of the history of democratization and feminist movements, Lee received various acknowledgements and awards, including the <Christianity and Crisis> Human Rights Award, Hanshin University Human Rights Award, Japan's Asian Women Human Rights Award, Asian Human Rights Fund Award, Republic of Korea National Peony Award, and the first Peace Contribution Award.