Bob Toji Never Gave Up


Fishing was one of Bob Toji’s favorite pastimes. (Photo courtesy Glenn Inouye)

Fishing was one of Bob Toji’s favorite pastimes. (Photo courtesy Glenn Inouye)

Robert Kazunobu Toji, or Bob, as his family and friends called him, was born on Nov. 30, 1951 at St. Vincent Hospital to Frank Mamoru Toji and Evelyn Toji in Los Angeles.

Bob has an older brother, Dean, and two younger sisters, Suzanne and Gail. His father was a gardener and his mother was a homemaker and later worked at the Barlow Company.

Bob went to Virginia Road Elementary School, Mount Vernon Junior High, and Dorsey High School. He wanted to go to UCLA, so he went West Los Angeles Community College while he worked at The L.A. Times, planning to transfer to UCLA. There he met Glenn Inouye in class and introduced Glenn to The L.A. Times.

While working at The Times, they met Robert Hernandez and Fred Lundgren, and they all became lifelong friends. They called themselves the Four Winds. Those were great times for the four buddies. So great that Bob quit UCLA, opting to go on a Colorado River rafting trip with his friends … which he never regretted.

Bob ultimately went to work for ACCO, a large commercial HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) company, in 1981. He was got his physical engineer license, became a controls engineer, and worked on the Staples Center, Getty Museum, ARCO Towers, etc.

Bob was committed to his community and in the early ’80s became involved in the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress). Bob, along with the committee, worked hard lobbying to get a presidential apology and $20,000 to each of the surviving Japanese Americans who were put in internment camps during World War II. And after a long lobbying campaign, they were successful in passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

However, by anyone’s account, the most important event in Bob’s life was the chance meeting in 1982 with his future wife, Suzanne Totsubo Nishikawa. Bob and Suzanne coincidentally sat next to each other at the wedding reception of mutual friends, Janice Nabara and Victor Huey. Bob thought Suzanne was really cute and started up a conversation. As they say, one thing led to another and they fell in love.

Bob and Suzanne were married on Aug. 23, 1983 at Senshin Buddhist Temple. Suzanne had two little boys, Jared, age 7, and Kirk, age 4, and on Nov. 3, 1984, Bob and Suzanne’s son Marcus was born.

While they raised their boys, Bob continued to work at ACCO as an engineer. He was also active at Senshin and joined the Board of Directors, serving as board president in 2000.

As he was still yearning to complete his degree from UCLA, ACCO gave him time off and Bob went back to school after 25 years. He graduated with a degree in biology in 1999 among classmates the same age as his sons; in fact, one of the members of his graduating class was his son Jared.

In 2005, he retired from ACCO and decided he wanted to work at the family restaurant, Feast from the East. He enjoyed busing tables, schmoozing with the customers and just hanging out. He also did the corporate business stuff on the side, too. In retirement he enjoyed working out, staying active at Senshin, attending the boys’ basketball games every weekend, and community activities like tofu and sake festivals, Day of Remembrance, fishing and shooting with his buddies, and traveling with Kenny and Joji.

Bob Toji

Bob Toji (1951-2015)

It was in 2009 that he first was diagnosed with salivary gland carcinoma. Bob kept on fighting it year after year. Even as the cancer metastasized to his liver and to his brain, Bob gave it a good fight.

During the years of difficult treatments and procedures, fortunately, when his health permitted he continued to go fishing, travel and go to Lakers and UCLA basketball games.

After six years, he passed away on Aug. 9, 2015 at age 63. Bob said he had no regrets and nothing on his “bucket list.” Services were held on Aug. 23 at Senshin.

In a thank-you note to those who paid their respects, Suzanne said, “Bob never gave in to cancer. He never let it get him down….He worked, traveled, went to Laker and UCLA games, went fishing and spent time with family and friends. He always wore a chain around his neck that said ‘Never Give Up.’

“AND he rarely missed his Wednesday night support group at the Cancer Support Community, Benjamin Center in West Los Angeles. I really believe that he lived as long as he did with cancer (six years) because of all the support he got from others who had cancer. They gave each other hope, which in turn improved the quality of their lives.

“I was in the Caregiver Group. I made lasting friends and learned to cope with this horrible disease. Cancer sucks! The programs and services are provided at Benjamin Center at no cost to people with cancer, family or friends. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for Bob and me.

“Our family thanks you so much for your gifts, thoughts and your help through this difficult time. In lieu of the customary postage stamps to thank you, I am sending a donation to the Cancer Support Community.”

Following are statements from Bob’s colleagues:

Kathy Masaoka: “Bob joined NCRR in 1980 at the start of the grassroots campaign for redress, helped to coordinate outreach and presentations to churches and community groups, and organized the mail outs that were essential to keep people informed and involved.

“After the redress victory, Bob continued to work on educating others about the camps and redress as chair of the Education Committee and served as co-emcee of the Day of Remembrance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the camps in 1992.

“He gained useful skills, called every event a ‘party’ and was proud to say, ‘I was one person in a huge movement that accomplished an act of American justice for my parents and all their friends…MY people.’”

Guy Aoki: “I was devastated by the news that Bob had passed away. He always had a smile on his face and had good humor about things. I remember driving to his house for NCRR’s Education Committee meetings in the early ’90s and seeing the assortment of breakfast cereal boxes his family collected. Of course, they were proud of the Kristi Yamaguchi ones.

“We were trying to find ways to educate the masses about the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, which culminated in the film ‘Stand Up for Justice.’ I believe he took over from me as chair when, in February of 1993, the ‘Falling Down’ controversy hit the fan and I realized I no longer had time to be involved in both MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans) and NCRR.

“The last I saw Bob was a few years ago (maybe five?). I had just come from the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s annual meeting with Fox and had some time to kill (and needed to eat) before driving up to the ABC meeting, so I stopped by his restaurant, Feast From the East, in Westwood. Luckily, he was there, and we talked about the state of the entertainment business.

“He was curious as his son, Marcus, was an actor, so Bob had a vested interest in seeing that portrayals of Asian Americans improved and that there were more opportunities for Asian American actors. He said he appreciated the work I did in MANAA.

“I’m sorry I never had the chance to say goodbye. He was way too young to leave us. Thanks for everything, Bob.”


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