He had a weekend fishing trip coming up on Whidbey Island. Just a few days before he left for it, Kip Tokuda had shared this with longtime friend and colleague, State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos.
“He was really excited because he and some buddies had been planning for well over a year a fishing trip, and my understanding was that’s why he was up by Whidbey,” said Rep. Tomiko Santos. “He was trying to get ready for his big boys’ weekend of fishing.”
That Saturday, July 13th, Tokuda suffered a heart attack while fishing on his trip to Deer Lake near South Whidbey Island. Tokuda passed away at age 66, sending a deep wave of shock and grief among communities he touched throughout his life as a champion for children and equal rights, a committed mentor, and a devoted husband, father and friend.
“The outpour of love and support from the API (Asian Pacific Islander) community, the political community and our youth are only a snapshot of the immeasurable impact Kip has had throughout our state over the course of the past several decades,” said Nate Caminos, one of many outstanding leaders Tokuda mentored and helped rear into public policy.
Born in Seattle in 1946, Tokuda grew up in the Central District and Beacon Hill as the second of five Tokuda siblings. His family ran Tokuda Pharmacy, a Chinatown-International District institution, and he graduated from Cleveland High School after playing football for both Cleveland and Garfield High School.
At the core of his many milestones and achievements for Washington’s families, underserved youth and Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities was a deeply humble, deeply caring man who wanted to ensure the next generation of Asian Pacific Islander leaders were well-supported and equipped to serve and advance their communities, according to many accounts.
Tokuda founded Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) in 1998 in response to this need, spearheading a program to develop new leaders to serve the evolving community and ensure strong, progressive representation in statehouses and chambers, as well as with community organizations that had long been the bedrock of API activism coming out of 1970s Seattle.
Community activist Akemi Matsumoto met Tokuda in 1974. Over the years, she knew she could always trust him without question because “he always did what he said he was going to do.”
In 1998, she joined him in forming ACLF. “He … had such a clear vision of what he wanted to do, and that is to develop people for public office and leadership in the community versus for the corporate world,” Matsumoto said.
Cherry Cayabyab, former executive director of ACLF, described him as “one of those rare elder and accomplished community leaders that made himself so approachable and accessible to young people.”
“He had a quiet, steadfast strength that made him effective as a community advocate in his own unique way,” she said. “He was passionate about building the next generation and pipeline of leadership — rooted in race and social justice and in one’s heart — as he did himself, lead by example.”
Caminos, an ACLF alumni and former senior staffer for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, felt Tokuda’s leadership, wisdom and deep commitment to the next generation was contagious.
“Early on in my career, he became a mentor to me when I recently realized I had needed one the most. I never asked him to, he just knew,” Caminos remembered. “He always made the time, no matter how little I felt I was compared to the other people on his calendar for the day. At times, over the years, I’ve caught myself using some of his wisdom in conversations I’ve had with younger people facing similar turning points in their lives. His message to me eight years ago continues to pay it forward.”
Bill Tashima, past board president of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), met Tokuda in the late-‘90s when Tokuda was Washington’s 37th District State Representative, which he served as from 1994 to 2002.
“At that time, he was working hard on the Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Act,” Tashima remembered. “He got that passed in the House of Representatives, and it was a major accomplishment because it provided funding for grants to groups to develop projects that would tell the story [of Japanese Americans] during World War II. The other thing was that he aligned it with state education guidelines.”
Tokuda did much more to ensure the history and culture of Japanese Americans had a home in Washington state, establishing the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington in 2003.
His enduring advocacy and early backing of gay marriage started in the early 1990s “way before JACL nationally — before any chapter — took it up,” noted Matsumoto.
His work engaging API and other communities in the Referendum 74 campaign saw the historic passing of same-sex marriage in Washington state last year.
Tashima was thrilled to have Tokuda officiating his marriage to his partner this August.
“He was such a good person,” said Tashima. “When he saw you, he made you feel like he was really happy to see you. He was a doer, and he made you feel welcomed and valued.”
Ann Fujii-Lindwall, Tokuda’s cousin, will miss his humor and ability to make everyone feel comfortable, describing him as “the brother I never had.”
“As I grew up and got involved in the community … I really admired [his work] and tried to do what he did,” she said. “He probably influenced me in ways I didn’t even consciously think about.”
Tokuda’s legacy of leadership in safeguarding Washington’s children began at the helm of the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, where he served as executive director. As a legislator, he protected anti-poverty programs and passed the Special Needs Adoption Bill. After eight years in office, his service to children continued as head of the Human Services Department’s Family and Youth Services Division, then as interim director in helping Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn transition into his new role at the beginning of his term.
After Tokuda retired from the city, McGinn appointed him to the Seattle Community Police Commission this past year to lead reforms in the Seattle Police Department (SPD), keep tabs on racial profiling practices and develop new police recruitment policies.
In a commemorative statement, the Mayor noted: “For decades in Seattle and Olympia [Kip Tokuda] was steadfast in his work for racial justice, for the disadvantaged, and for our youth. He was an inspiration and mentor to many in the community, including me.”
After working with Tokuda to secure capital funding for the rebuilt Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing), Ron Chew called him “one of the best allies to have [in Olympia], even [when] he was no longer a legislator.”
“He was widely respected among his former colleagues — it didn’t matter what their political stripe,” said Chew. “A phone call from Kip was like a magic password. It opened doors. When Kip called on your behalf, you usually got a return call.”
Tokuda’s unique ability to open doors for others perhaps came from his own humanity.
“Maybe one of the keys to his effectiveness as a leader is that he had a gift for putting people at ease. He was naturally funny, goofy and down-to-earth,” said Chew. “He would make everyone in his presence laugh – usually hysterically – by making random jibes at his ineptitude or stupidity, even though he was neither inept nor stupid. It was part of his humility and his grace as a listener and communicator. His humor would open the way to a great conversation in which everyone’s voice had a place at the table. This was true generosity in action.”
After relying on Tokuda’s generous moral support during many challenges and victories serving together on the House of Representatives, Rep. Tomiko Santos boiled it down to this:
“I think what’s most important in terms of remembering Kip is, first and foremost, that he was a father, he was a husband, he was a brother and he was a son. And I think Kip would want to be remembered first and foremost for those reasons: that he cared very deeply about his family, and by extension, he cared very deeply about his community and his friends.”
Kip Tokuda is survived by his wife, Barbara Lui, and two daughters Molly and Pei-Ming Tokuda, along with his mother Tama Tokuda, brother Floyd Tokuda and sisters Valerie Chin, Wendy Tokuda Hall and Marilyn Tokuda.
In Honor of Kip Tokuda
The Tokuda family will be holding a public viewing at Bonney-Watson in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Thursday, July 18 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a 2 p.m. public memorial service on Sunday, July 21st at Kane Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to the Kip Tokuda Legacy Fund, which will support the causes he dedicated his life to. Contributions may be made to the following address:
Kip Tokuda Legacy Fund
The Seattle Foundation
1200 Fifth Avenue Avenue, Suite 1300
Seattle, WA. 98101-3151
For those wishing to send cards and letters to the family during this difficult time, please send them to this address:
P.O Box 28961; Seattle, WA 98118
Family members also invite the community to share memories and photos on his Facebook page, “Remembering Kip Tokuda”: www.facebook.com/RememberingKipTokuda.