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John Huston, advocate for Southeast Asian refugees, dies at 89

A few months later the government shipped one-quarter of his classmates - Japanese-Americans - to internment camps.

That injustice sparked in young Huston a passion for peace and social justice that never waned. “He had a lifelong compassion for people who were helpless,” said Barbara Huston, his wife of 60 years. The Rev. Canon Huston, an Episcopal priest long affiliated with St. Mark’s Cathedral, died Jan. 27. He was 89.

He worked with and on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers from Southeast Asia, Central America and the Middle East.

He convened a meeting in 1975 that led to the creation of Seattle’s first hospice program.

He participated in the first ceremony blessing a same-sex couple at St. Mark’s in 1996.

Before deciding to seek ordination, he worked as a banker for four years. “That just didn’t cut it for him,” said his son, Matthew. “He just cared about too many issues and people.”

The Rev. Peter Strimer, who succeeded the Rev. Huston as head of social-justice ministries at St. Mark’s in 1995, called him “a gentle, fierce spirit. He was soft-spoken, but he was relentless in his work for justice . . . .

“For years he was the social conscience of St. Mark’s Cathedral.”

The Rev. Huston was born in San Antonio, Texas, but came to Seattle as an infant when his father, also a priest, was named Episcopal bishop for Western Washington.

After high school he studied at the University of Washington, spent a summer as a fire lookout in the North Cascades, and served in the Army in the South Pacific.

He later earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, Calif. “I want my life to partake of the action and passion of this age,” he wrote in 1953 in explaining his calling to the priesthood.

Ordained in 1957, the Rev. Huston served at Epiphany Parish in Seattle, St. David Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shoreline, and St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina.

He joined the staff at St. Mark’s in 1976, just as Southeast Asian refugees were beginning to arrive in the U.S. in large numbers.

The Rev. Huston worked to resettle them, leading campaigns at the parish, regional and national levels. It was largely through his efforts that Washington became a major destination for Vietnamese refugees, Strimer said.

The Rev. Huston was a refugee-affairs officer for the national Episcopal Church, and served for 10 years as executive director of the Washington Association of Churches’ Refugee Resettlement Program. He also chaired the board of the Indochina Refugee Action Center in Washington, D.C.

He persuaded Randy Urmston, then and now a St. Mark’s parishioner, to open his home to a former South Vietnamese army officer.

“John could see the big picture,” Urmston said. “He had a gift for connecting people.”

Earlier in his career he was development director of the United Inner City Development Foundation, a Central District economic-development agency. He also helped establish an Episcopal storefront church and ministry in the Pike Place Market.

The Rev. Huston enjoyed backpacking, sailing and reading, especially history.

Survivors include his wife, Barbara Huston, of Seattle; sons John Huston Jr., of North Oaks, Minn., and Matthew Huston, of Seattle; daughter Elisabeth Le Lion, of Le Temple de Bretagne, France; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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