As a state legislator, Kip Tokuda was known as an advocate for children and families, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized. To Seattle’s Asian-American community, he was an honored community activist who mentored younger generations of civic and political leaders.
“Some leaders are respected and some are liked. He was both. You listened to what he had to say because he listened to you,” said Ron Chew, director of the International Community Health Services Foundation, who counted himself among the people Mr. Tokuda mentored.
Mr. Tokuda suffered a heart attack Saturday while fishing on Deer Lake on South Whidbey Island. Several people on shore were able to reach him and start CPR, but Mr. Tokuda was unresponsive, said Island County Coroner Robert Bishop. He was 66.
The death shocked Seattle’s tight-knit Asian-American community in which Mr. Tokuda was raised and for whom he became an inspiring leader.
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“He cared about ensuring that there was ongoing leadership,” said Cherry Cayabyab, former executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation. Mr. Tokuda co-founded the organization in 1998 to train and encourage young people for leadership roles in politics and nonprofit organizations, Cayabyab said.
The foundation’s award, given annually for courage, caring and vitality, is named for Mr. Tokuda.
She said that although Mr. Tokuda was a respected political leader, he was always approachable and supportive. More than 100 young Asian Americans have graduated from the Leadership Foundation, she said.
“He was really an inspiration to so many of my peers,” Cayabyab said.
Mr. Tokuda was born in Seattle in 1946 to a prominent family that ran Tokuda Pharmacy, which served Central Area residents on Jackson Street for years until it relocated to the Chinatown International District.
Mr. Tokuda, the second of five siblings, graduated from Cleveland High School and the University of Washington. He grew up in the Central District and on Beacon Hill and played football at Garfield and then at Cleveland. Two of his sisters were cheerleaders, one at Cleveland and one at Franklin High School.
“They were hilarious,” said Ann Fujii-Lindwall, a cousin. “You’d get the three of them together and we’d all be laughing so hard.” But she said that while Tokuda was known for his sense of humor, he was serious about protecting children.
He was a former executive director of the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. In the Legislature, where he served from 1994 to 2002, he chaired the House Children and Family Services Committee and was a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Juvenile Justice and Family Law Committee.
State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who represented the 37th District with Mr. Tokuda, recalled that members of the Appropriations Committee were expected to make suggestions about the state operating budget and to support the budget when it came up for a vote.
She said that one year Mr. Tokuda stood up in a cramped, temporary committee-hearing room and said he could not support the budget because it made deep, damaging cuts to human services.
Usually there would be political consequences for not going along, she said. But in Mr. Tokuda’s case, “everyone knew he was a man of deep principles and that he couldn’t cast a vote for a budget he passionately disagreed with.”
Tomiko Santos said that Mr. Tokuda’s work on behalf of children “is something the whole state can be thankful for.”
Among his many civic contributions, Mr. Tokuda was also a founder of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington. Last year, Mr. Tokuda received the Order of the Rising Sun award from the emperor of Japan for his contribution to strengthening and promoting friendly relations between Japan and the United States.
Most recently, Mr. Tokuda was appointed to the Community Police Commission by Mayor Mike McGinn. The commission is charged with overseeing reforms to the Seattle Police Department over issues of excessive use of force and racial profiling mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a statement Monday, McGinn said he was one of the many people Mr. Tokuda had mentored and inspired.
Mr. Tokuda is survived by his wife, Barbara Lui; daughters Molly Tokuda and Pei-Ming Tokuda; his mother, Tama Tokuda; brother Floyd Tokuda; and sister Valerie Chin, all of Seattle; sister Wendy Tokuda Hall, of Oakland, Calif.; and sister Marilyn Tokuda, of Los Angeles.
A memorial service has not yet been announced.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes