ALBANY — Jewel Okawachi, a lifelong resident and former mayor of Albany, died at home shortly after midnight on July 14. She was 84.
According to her family, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in late May, by which time it had spread. She passed away in her sleep, surrounded by her sons David, Stan and Mark.
Born Oct. 31, 1928 in San Francisco, Okawachi grew up in Albany, where her parents faced discrimination and bureaucratic resistance as they struggled to build their house. At the time, real estate agents tried to prevent non-whites from moving in, she said in a talk given in 2007 at the Albany Community Center and reported by Albany Today.
At age 14, she and her family were interned at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. Her brother died while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy, and her father was devastated by the wartime experience, never fully recovering after he returned and re-established his dental practice.
When she left the camp at age 16, she returned to the family home and asked the people who had taken it over to leave, she recalled. “I think back at 16 I had a lot of nerve. I probably didn’t know any better.”
Okawachi graduated from Albany High in 1946, ended up raising three sons as a single mother, and owned her own business, D&S Composing Service, until she retired. She served two terms on the City Council (2000-2008), including one year as mayor in 2002, and on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Waterfront Commission, Pension Board, and Waste Management Authority Board.
As a volunteer, she donated her time to the Albany Education Foundation, Police Activities League, Youth Task Force, Prevention Council, Drug and Alcohol Task Force, Albany Little League, Boy Scouts, Teen Center, Albany High School Track and Field, Albany High Athletic Boosters, Albany Community Foundation, Albany Chamber of Commerce, Solano Avenue Association, Albany Historical Society, Friends of the Albany Library, Friends of the Albany Seniors, and Soroptimist International.
Albany’s Terrace Park was renamed Jewel’s Terrace Park in 2009 in recognition of her contributions and her longtime daily walk through the park.
Mayor Peggy Thomsen met Okawachi when both were involved in the PTA and was among those who recruited her for public office. After Okawachi’s passing, Thomsen issued instructions that the flag be flown at half-staff at City Hall and asked that the City Council adjourn its July 15 meeting in the late mayor’s honor.
In addition to her sons, Okawachi is survived by brother Vernon and sister-in-law Emi Nishi, daughters-in-law Gaby and Yuka, grandchildren Natalie, Gregory, Logan and Satomi, and her beloved dog, Sammy.
The funeral service was private. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requested that donations be made in her memory to the Albany Community Foundation, Albany Senior Center, Albany Education Foundation, and Berkeley Humane Society.