SAN FRANCISCO — Chiyo Nao Wada passed away on July 21 in San Francisco at the age of 98.
Born on June 2, 1919 in San Francisco, the first of eight children of Senri and Yoshino Nao, she attended San Francisco public schools and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1941. While attending Cal, she met her husband, Yoritada Wada. On Jan. 22, 1942, the two were married in Boulder, Colo.
Yori was serving in the U.S. Army (442nd RCT and Military Intelligence Service) and Chiyo was working for the U.S. government in the Office of War Information (OWI). She was featured in Gary Ono’s documentary “Calling Tokyo: Japanese American Radio Broadcasters During World War II,” which told the unheralded story of Japanese American civilians who served their country through the OWI even as their families and friends were incarcerated in concentration camps. They did language translation work and short-wave radio broadcasting to Japan, assisting in the war efforts of Britain and the U.S.
After the war, Wada and her family returned to San Francisco, where she worked for attorney Wayne Mortimer Collins, assisting Japanese American renunciants to regain their citizenship and on other wartime cases. Some 5,000 incarcerees, embittered by the violation of their constitutional rights, renounced their U.S. citizenship, but later came to regret their decision.
At its 2015 awards dinner, the National Japanese American Historical Society recognized Collins’ son and fellow attorney, Wayne Merrill Collins, and the elder Collins’ Nisei legal support staff for working “day and night” on the renunciants’ cases. In addition to Wada, the staff included Eiko Aoki, Florence Dobashi, Tetsujiro “Tex” Nakamura, Sam Nao and Yoshiye Handa Yasuda. Recognized posthumously were Reiko Ouchida Nao, Doris Phippen and Jean Kajikawa Sakai.
Wada later worked at medical offices and Macy’s until her retirement. A working mother, she found time to enjoy the theater, classical music, the ballet, art museums, sewing, reading and dancing with other seniors as The Happy Tappers.
“Chiyo’s warm smile, kind spirit, elegance, and her love of family and community will be remembered by all who knew her,” said her family, who expressed appreciation to the staff of Kimochi In. and gratitude to her caregivers.
She is survived by her children, Edward, Richard (Rita), Patricia (Grant) and Wayne (Loan); grandchildren, Christopher (Whitney), Katherine (Jeremy) and Benjamin; great-grandchildren, Evelyn and Magnolia; brother, Isamu Nao; brothers-in-law, Yorinobu (Shinako) Wada and Richard Hamasaki; and many nieces and nephews. Predeceased by husband Yori, a community leader who served as a UC regent and director of the Buchanan YMCA, and six of seven siblings.
The family will hold a memorial celebration of her life on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 1 p.m. at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 1840 Sutter St. in San Francisco Japantown.