Tributes to Rose Takayo Matsui Ochi (1938-2020)

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Rose Ochi and Sue Kunitomi Embrey are presented with plaques of recognition during the Manzanar Guard Tower dedication on Sept. 17, 2005 for their work in making Manzanar part of the National Park Seervice. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

U.S. Department of Justice, Community Relations Service: “DOJCRS remembers Rose M. Ochi, former CRS director from 1997-2001, who passed away 12/13. Her integral role in improving community relations, protecting civil rights, and furthering race initiatives through constructive dialogue will live on to inspire the work of America’s peacemakers.”

Janice D Tanaka, filmmaker: “I got to know Rose Ochi while making a film called ‘Right of Passage’ on Japanese American redress. Rose was credited by President Reagan for sending an article about Kazuo Masuda, a JA veteran who gave his life for this country during World War II. That article was a factor in Japanese Americans receiving redress for being incarcerated during World War II …

“I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to interview her and to set the record straight and to give her the credit she so deserved. RIP Rose!”

Ronald Wakabayashi, former national director, JACL; former regional director, Department of Justice Community Relations Service: “Rose Ochi will be greatly missed. Hers was a full life, well lived and touched so many. She left us last night after an extended period of health challenges.

“There is so much to recall. Her name was referenced by President Reagan as he signed the redress bill. The designation of Manzanar as a historic site was guided by her hand. She served as an associate attorney general of the United States. She was a Nisei Week princess, a gym coach, Tom Bradley’s criminal justice planning director — and lots more.

“I remember going to a very important event with her. We were late. The event was over capacity. We were told there was no more room. Without missing a beat, Rose said, ‘We’re just returning to our seats.’ We got in. She was like that. She got it done. I will miss her.”

Karen Narasaki, former commissioner, U.S. Commission Civil Rights; former president, Asian Americans Advancing Justice: “Very sad to hear of the death of Rose Ochi, a woman whose impact on her hometown of Los Angeles, America and the Japanese American community was as big as her heart. I am incredibly blessed to have been one of her hundreds of mentees …

“She grew up in East L.A. She became a teacher and then went to law school. She was co-counsel in the landmark education reform case **Serrano v. Priest.** She worked for 20 years for the City of L.A., advising Mayor Tom Bradley, the City Council and others on administration of justice issues, and went on to be appointed by President Clinton to run the Office of Community Relations Service at the Dept. of Justice. She returned home to serve on the L.A. Police Commission as vice chair.

“This is just a sampling of her achievements. What doesn’t show up on her resume is her warmth, her kindness, her joy and the many, many people she has left behind who are carrying on her commitment to making the world a better place for all.”

Paul Igasaki, former chair and chief judge, Administrative Review Board, U.S. Department of Labor; former chair and vice chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “I heard that our friend, community leader, and public official Rose Ochi passed away last night. She was an extraordinary person and losing her leaves a great gap in the lives of all that knew her.

“I first got to know her when I was getting involved in the JACL. She had a way of getting to the bottom line on complex situations and especially reached out to younger folks in the community. She was a part of Southern California, but she came to Washington to serve in the Department of Justice during the Clinton Administration.”

Naomi Hirahara, mystery writer; former Rafu Shimpo editor: “I was always dazzled by Rose Ochi. She was statuesque with a shock of gray hair when it wasn’t cool for a middle-aged woman to show any signs of aging. She was a lawyer who worked closely with Mayor Tom Bradley on issues related to law and poverty. She was best buddies with another trailblazing Nisei woman, Sue Kunitomi Embrey. Together these two women fought for both redress and reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated in World War II detention centers and the establishment of Manzanar as a national historic park.

“Rose ran for president of the Japanese American Citizen League in the 1980s and I was shocked to witness the petty criticisms about how she wore her hair, anything to tear her down. She lost by two votes. As a young reporter, I saw the double standard that ambitious women faced if they strove for leadership positions.

“Later she was the first Asian American to be appointed assistant attorney general and advised President Clinton on matters of race relations. She became the leader of the nonprofit arm of Los Angeles County’s comprehensive crime lab at Cal State Los Angeles and our Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America was able to get a full tour because of her.

“I last saw Rose at a book event at the La Pintoresca Library in Altadena last year. Her husband wheeled her in a wheelchair and I knew that her health was compromised. Yet her eyes still had a glimmer of sharpness …

“She was working on her memoir, and I hope that she was able to make some headway on it.

“Who knows how people are remembered? Maybe it’s a fool’s errand to remain in the fickle public’s consciousness. All I know is that I remember you, Rose, and I want to thank you for all you have done. Rest in power.”

Visit Rose Ochi’s online memorial: https://www.forevermissed.com/rose-takayo-matsuiochi

 

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