Kao Ly Ilean Her, a Hmong-American leader and University of Minnesota Board regent, has died at age 52 from complications of COVID-19.
Her, an active civic leader who devoted her life to improving the lives of Hmong women, died Thursday with "a few of her family members by her side, and the rest of her family present via video," a Go Fund Me page dedicated to creating a memorial fund in her honor says.
She was born in Laos and fled to the United States in 1976. Her graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School and was the first Hmong woman admitted to the Minnesota Bar Association, the Pioneer Press says.
She founded several nonprofits, was the chief executive officer of the Hmong Elders Center, an adult day center serving Hmong seniors in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and was the executive director of the State of Minnesota Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, her bio on the University of Minnesota's website and the Go Fund Me page say.
Her, the first Hmong woman elected to the U of M's Board of Regents in 2019, was serving a six-year term.
U of M Board of Regents Chair Ken Powell said of Her, “I and my colleagues on the Board of Regents are devastated to learn about Ilean’s passing. Ilean’s death is not only the loss of a great colleague, but also the significant loss of a strong voice for diversity and inclusion in the Minnesota communities the University serves.
"She regularly used that voice in support of making the University affordable and accessible to all Minnesotans. Ilean was on the Board for a far too brief time, but she quickly established herself as a careful listener and a true champion for higher education in Minnesota. My Board colleagues and all of us at the University of Minnesota send our deepest condolences to Ilean’s family and her many many friends.”
In a statement, U of M President Joan Gabel said:
“I am heartbroken to learn about Ilean’s passing. She was such a strong advocate for the University of Minnesota and for all members of our University community. And for me personally, I sincerely appreciated the warmth of her welcome to me when I became president shortly after she joined the Board of Regents. Her service to the entire state of Minnesota, and in particular to Minnesota’s Hmong and Asian American Pacific Islander communities, is well known and celebrated. All of us at the University of Minnesota are proud to count her as an alum, as an advocate and as a friend, and we are inspired to carry on her service in all that we do. We send our very best wishes to her loved ones as they celebrate her life and legacy.”
By law, the Minnesota Legislature will elect someone to serve the remainder of Her's term on the Board of Regents, the Pioneer Press says, noting that Gov. Tim Walz may appoint someone temporarily until the Legislature can act on this.