Trailblazing Bishop Wilbur Choy dies at 103

January 13, 2022 | by Heather Hahn

Trailblazing Bishop Wilbur Choy dies at 103

A half century ago, Bishop Wilbur Choy made national headlines with his election as The United Methodist Church’s first Asian American episcopal leader. 

Fellow United Methodists say the bishop did not just a blaze a trail for himself but also opened pathways for more ethnically and racially diverse leaders across the church. Friends also remember him for his great sense of humor.

The Western Jurisdictional Conference elected Choy — the son of Chinese immigrants — to the episcopacy in 1972. He went on to lead the Pacific Northwest Conference for eight years and the California-Nevada Conference for four before retiring in 1984. His episcopal colleagues chose him to serve as the Council of Bishops president in 1983-84. 

“I remember him for radiating the joy of the Lord, and his graciousness to all people. It was just infectious,” said retired Bishop Roy Sano, who was elected as the denomination’s first Japanese American bishop the same year Choy retired.

Choy died Dec. 28 in Seattle at age 103. 

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Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or