K. Patrick Okura, 93, a psychologist who was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II and who later established...
WASHINGTON — K. Patrick Okura, 93, a psychologist who was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II and who later established a foundation for developing Asian-Pacific American leaders in the mental-health field, died Jan. 30 of coronary-artery disease at his home in Bethesda, Md.
Mr. Okura and his wife, Lily, were among the 60,000 surviving Japanese Americans who in 1990 each received a $20,000 check and a written apology from President George H.W. Bush under the 1988 Civil Liberties Act. They used the money to further their efforts to educate Asian-American mental-health and human-services professionals in how mental-health services and policies are developed.
The couple founded the Bethesda-based Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation in 1988 to provide leadership development for promising young professionals.
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Mr. Okura was one of the leading Asian figures in the health field and a civil-rights leader who fought for the rights of Japanese Americans. He was president in 1962 of the Japanese American Citizens League, the oldest and largest Asian-American civil-rights organization.
“He was one of those individuals who was cut from the old civil-rights cloth,” said John Tateishi, national executive director of the league. “He was a strong believer in fighting for the downtrodden and also in attempting to level the playing field for everybody.”
Okura also influenced how the U.S. government responded to health issues concerning Asian-Pacific Americans, Tateishi said. “He’s the one who kind of cut that path for the entire Asian-Pacific community.”
Kiyoshi Patrick Okura was born in Los Angeles, the eldest son of immigrant parents. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s and, in 1933, a master’s degrees in psychology.
In 1938, Mr. Okura began working as a personnel examiner with the city of Los Angeles Civil Service Commission, becoming the city’s highest-ranking Japanese American. At one point, he was accused by a newspaper columnist of plotting to sabotage the city’s water and power plants. The columnist also said the U.S.-born psychologist was trying to pass as Irish by spelling his name K. Patrick O’Kura.
The mayor, heeding the false allegations, labeled Mr. Okura the most dangerous Japanese in the city. He twice asked him to resign, but Mr. Okura refused.
Shortly after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, authorizing the forced relocation of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.
“It was terrifying,” Okura once recalled.
“Not only the authorities, but the public was unfriendly. Hostile. Nasty,” he said in a 1990 Washington Post article.
He and his new wife were shipped off to the Assembly Center on the grounds of the Santa Anita racetrack near Los Angeles, where they lived in an 8-by-8-foot tack room in a horse stable for nine months.
Mr. Okura said in the 1990 interview that he was not bitter about the indignities that he experienced. “How one handles hardships makes you a better person,” he said. “You accept it and make the best of it.”
He and his wife left the internment camp after Boys Town’s founder, the Rev. Edward Flanagan, got permission for about 50 Japanese Americans to come to Omaha, Neb., to replace workers who had been called into military service. Mr. Okura was offered a position as Boys Town’s staff psychologist, which he held for 17 years. He then worked as a psychologist for the state of Nebraska until 1970.
In 1971, he went to the Washington area to become executive assistant to the director of the National Institutes of Health, launching programs to address social problems in minority communities.
Mr. Okura was named Japanese American of the Biennium in 1978, the highest recognition given by the Japanese American Citizens League. He was honored by the emperor of Japan in 1999.
In 2002, he also was inducted into the Montgomery County, Md., Human Rights Hall of Fame.
Mr. Okura received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the American Psychological Association in 2002 and the 2005 Kun-Po Soo Award by the American Psychiatric Association Committee of Asian-American Psychiatrists.
Survivors include wife Lily, of Bethesda; two brothers; and two sisters.