London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

RIP David Kilburn

David Kilburn
Photo credit: 1boon – where you can also find images of David and Jade’s hanok

Many LKL readers will have been friends with, or had the great pleasure of meeting David Kilburn, who sadly passed away in Seoul on Monday, 7 October. David was a steadfast supporter of justice campaigns such as the Sewol ferry disaster and the ‘comfort women’ issue.

He had his own personal experience of injustice in South Korea at the hands of corrupt government officials, judges, lawyers and hired thugs, as he fought to keep his traditional Korean ‘hanok’ home in Seoul which he bought in 1988. The city government, under mayorship of Lee Myung Bak, later a controversial and corrupt President, was paying lip service to hanok preservation, while actually destroying whole traditional neighbourhoods for the sake of dodgy redevelopment projects. David did not let the bastards grind him down. After he and his Korean wife Jade fought several legal battles, they could keep their beautiful home. But this was not without a serious toll on his health – he permanently required regular treatment for deteriorating eyesight after hired thugs threw an unknown chemical in his face, in a (failed) attempt to make him vacate his home.

David was a lover of the arts, and on his return trips to London voraciously took in art exhibitions, film screenings and classical music recitals. Some of my most cherished memories are of attending concerts together – including Korean or Korean-related artists The Salomé Quartet, Odora Piano Trio, and violinist Songha Choi. We both hugely admired violinist Joo Yeon Sir, but diary dates never worked out to attend any of her always thrilling gigs together.

David Kilburn
Source: Facebook

The last time I saw David, was a couple of months ago, when my wife and I had lunch with him near Russell Square on the day he was flying back to Seoul. He gave us a £20 Pret token to be used to buy coffees for those attending the ‘Comfort Women’ Memorial Day protest at the Japanese embassy a couple of days later, and said he was sorry he couldn’t be there. On the day of the protest we were eight in number, and stood in cold torrential rain for an hour outside the embassy, mostly ignored by the hurrying public. Coffee and cake afterwards never felt so good. This has become hugely symbolic of David Kilburn: even after he had gone, his kindness warmed us and cheered us up, and we felt his presence as if he were among us. I expect this will be the case as long as I live.

Goodbye to a true gentleman. Our deepest condolences to Jade Kilburn.

In his memory, I have edited down last year’s JTBC TV interview to include his words.

The full video can be seen here.

David’s impressive website on Hanok preservation can be viewed here:

The next Sewol ferry disaster silent protest at Trafalgar Square is on Saturday October 19th.

More tributes are shared in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “RIP David Kilburn

  1. David Kilburn + Robert Fouser
    L to R: Prince Richard (Duke of Gloucester), Jade Kilburn, David Kilburn, Robert Fouser – July 2013

    I am deeply saddened by the loss of David Kilburn late last Monday. I had known of David’s efforts to preserve hanok in Bukchon before moving to Korea from Japan in 2008. In 2009, I began to take a more active interest in historic preservation in Seoul and met him for the first time around 2010. Later, I often turned to him for advice and support. He was a wise voice and a great mentor. My respect for him deepened as the years passed. I remember the long talks with David and Jade Kilburn over tea in their magical house. David was sharp, witty, and passionate with a strong sense of justice.

    David and Jade were generous in opening their house in Gahoe-dong to visitors, including the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, and sharing the story of their love for hanok. In 2013, Prince Richard, Duke Of Gloucester visited their house on a walk in Gahoe-dong during a visit to represent Queen Elizabeth at the official ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

    My deepest condolences to Jade. RIP, dear friend and wise mentor.

    (Originally posted on Robert’s Facebook page and reposted here with permission)

  2. Flat White

    Yesterday, as I sat down to drink a Flat White, I immediately thought of David Kilburn and Jade Kilburn, as David so regularly celebrated his coffee breaks here on facebook. There is soo much I would like to say in tribute to David Kilburn, such a unique and kind force in the world, who always seemed to be trying to teach those around him something that David felt that they urgently needed to know.

    I think of David as a multi-dimensional character, whose love and knowledge of style and art was deep, rich and passionate, and whose empathies, sensitivities and sensibilities extended into political positions, supporting fights against various kinds of bullying and injustice. David often encouraged and reassured artists like myself, whenever we gave in to the anxieties associated with our personal and creative struggles.

    David was also a poet, a publisher, someone who was actively involved with and connected to London’s historic avant-garde movements, a highly skilled photographer/artist, and a successful business man (a rare combination of skills and achievements). Everyone who knows and who knew David Kilburn, in life and here on facebook, will be depleted by his passing and will miss him in our lives. I will especially miss his unusually dry, even sardonic humour.

    R.I.P David Kilburn and much love and best thoughts and wishes to Jade Kilburn, his perfect partner and companion in life, now sadly bereaved.

    Paul O’Kane.

    (Originally posted on Paul’s Facebook page and reposted here with permission)

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