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