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Tou-Fu Vang was a quiet leader who dedicated his life to public service, both in his native Laos and in the United States.

"He really, genuinely loved and admired America and was proud to be here," said his eldest son, Tong Vang.

Tou-Fu Vang, of Woodbury, died in a St. Paul hospital on Thanksgiving Day after weeks of fighting COVID-19. He was 76.

Vang was born in Laos on Christmas Day, 1943. In high school, he came to America through an education program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He spent the 1962-1963 school year studying in Madison, Wis., before briefly returning to Laos.

He came back to the U.S. to attend university. He started at the University of Southern California and then transferred to Iowa State University. After graduating, he once again flew back to Laos, where he taught social science and English before joining the Lao army during the Vietnam War.

Because he could speak English, he was assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. Vang Pao and worked closely with Lao and American forces. He often told his eldest son that he was "just lucky" to not have been injured in the war.

In 1975, Vang left Laos for America.

He moved to Chicago, where he remained for his 29-year career in the Department of Health and Human Services. He aided in refugee resettlement, particularly for those who immigrated from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Vang also worked in family and child services before retiring and moving to Minnesota in 2010.

In Minnesota, Vang became an active member of the Hmong community. He pushed to get veterans' burial benefits for Hmong and Lao American soldiers who served in the Special Guerrilla Unit commanded by Vang Pao during the Vietnam War. Those benefits were awarded in 2018.

Vang was passionate about human rights and even attended the last United Nations' Universal Periodic Review with his son, Tong Vang.

The review goes through the human rights records of all the U.N. member states.

"I think it's easy to think about his legacy in the war, but he did so much quiet service work throughout his life," Tong Vang said. "He was incredibly humble and compassionate."

Vang also enjoyed running, playing soccer, hiking and fishing.

Vang was buried at Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul on Dec. 1. He is survived by his spouse, seven children, 14 grandchildren, eight sisters and 10 brothers.

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440

Correction: Previous versions of the article had an incorrect rank in the headline. Tou-Fu Vang was a lieutenant colonel.