Photography by Danny Fulgencio.

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Linda Kao propelled herself from W.T. White High School and a part-time job in a flower shop to Southern Methodist University as the assistant dean for global programs. She’s been in that role for 20 years. In between, she was a successful model and in charge of logistics for the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Mr. USA pageants. Kao is on the board of directors for the Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth and the Dallas Assembly. Mother to a son and daughter, who attends Hockaday, Kao is a cancer survivor who seizes the day.

Linda Kao

How her father started Royal China: My father was a diplomat in Korea. He came to the U.S. first in 1973 and we followed in 1974. He brought two chefs to open a restaurant. He went to the East and West coast and felt it was saturated. A gentleman in Dallas wrote my dad, and my dad came here. I remember the letter he wrote us. “It’s a city with great potential.”

Proudest moment: I’m proud of my family. I’m proud of my father who had the courage to move his entire family here. As a diplomat, he spoke seven languages and was well-traveled and well-read. But if the dishwasher didn’t show up at the restaurant, he washed the dishes. I’m proud of my battle to survive cancer. I had stage four tonsil cancer. I would have died.

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

On surviving cancer: I had chemo and radiation. My tumor wrapped around my carotid artery. Prior to the surgery, I was told by the leading cancer institute doctors that they could not treat me. My daughter was 6. I told my daughter, “I have to survive because you cannot not have a mother.” A friend asked me last week, “Will you ever get your beautiful voice back?” I said, “No. But I’m happy to be alive.” I have paralysis on part of my face. Half of my tongue is paralyzed. My eye is droopy. But I can live with all that. One thing I miss is my smile.

On making things happen: I read that Miss Universe was going to Taiwan. I flew myself out to Los Angeles. I didn’t know anything about a live telecast or TV production. But I am a fast learner. I was flown out there and I worked for two months on Miss Universe. That was 1988.

Why art and fashion is important to her: As a young girl in Taiwan, my parents would take us to the National Palace Museum where we would immerse ourselves in Chinese paintings, jade carvings, fine porcelains, ivory towers and ancient bronze. I developed a love for Asian art. I am a pretty good Chinese calligrapher. Fashion is an art form. I love beautiful fabrics, clean lines and nice workmanship. I love mixing old and new, different labels and textures. 

Why she lives in Preston Hollow: I love the neighbors’ friendliness. I love the shopping. We need better schools. I drive around in the neighborhood and I don’t see a neighbor who doesn’t have a kid in private school. 

On having a daughter at 47: I had a kidney infection so I went to the ER. My stomach was puffy. I could feel something that was hard. My doctor asked, “You couldn’t be pregnant, could you?” He did a urine test and told me I was pregnant — 16 weeks. I called my husband and my 16-year-old son. 

How she relaxes: I do housework. I work on my garden and spend time with my family. I go to musicals and concerts. I walk the dogs. I enjoy simple pleasures. 

Advice to her younger self: Mother is always right. My mother passed away, but now that I look back, she did so many things for me, and I can never say thank you. She told me to be generous to others, to work hard. I didn’t appreciate it, but now I regret it.

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