Gary Locke ’72, Commerce Secretary and former governor of Washington, is President Barack Obama’s pick to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China, the President announced Wednesday.

Locke, a third-generation American who lived in an ethnically mixed housing project in his youth, became the first and only Chinese-American governor when he was elected in 1996. After he left Yale, Locke received a law degree from Boston University.

“It is little over a century that my grandfather first came to America to work as a houseboy for a family in Washington state in exchange for English lessons,” Locke said Wednesday at the White House. “I’m going back to the birthplace of my grandfather and father, and I’ll be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America.”

Locke brings a lengthy resume to the confirmation process — at the request of the Chinese government, he once organized a dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Seattle-area home of Microsoft executive Bill Gates. He’s already popular in China, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“He was a rock star. He was treated very much as a head of state there. People in supermarkets came up to him and recognized him,” Roger Nyhus, Locke’s former communications director, told the Times.