Anthony Hideki Ishisaka spent the last morning of his life pointing out social injustice.
On July 9, Mr. Ishisaka posted on Facebook a 2017 story from Slate.com marking the 90th anniversary of the anti-immigrant “deportations” of Filipino workers from the fields of the Yakima Valley in 1927. The story compared it to President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut the number of legal immigrants to the United States.
Mr. Ishisaka — a former associate professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work and co-founder of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service — didn’t add a comment to the post. He was just quietly making a point.
Then he sat down in his recliner at his North Seattle home and died in his sleep from what his family said was congestive heart failure. He was 75.
“He truly was a great humanitarian,” said state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, Mr. Ishisaka’s cousin once removed. (Her grandfather was Mr. Ishisaka’s uncle.) “What makes him so special is that he was a curious man. He wanted to know about everything and anything, but most especially, he wanted to know what made you tick.”
Mr. Ishisaka was born on May 5, 1944, at the Granada War Relocation Center, a Japanese-American internment camp in Amache, Colo., where he contracted rheumatic fever and rickets, according to his daughter, Toshiye Ishisaka. After their release, his family ran a farm in Elk Grove, Calif., where he collected Native American arrowheads, learned how to fish, how to slaughter a pig and developed a love of Japanese culture, archaeology and anthropology. He enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, intending to study medicine.
Instead — and because of his background — he was drawn to social work, and received his master’s degree in 1969. In 1971, he accepted a professorship at the UW. Two years later, he co-founded the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, one of the largest social-service providers for Asian-Pacific Americans. He later developed innovative curriculum at the UW that trained social workers to better respond to the needs of vulnerable populations diagnosed with chronic mental illness.
“His childhood experiences all helped shape his sense of justice,” said Mr. Ishisaka’s daughter, Naomi Ishisaka, a Seattle writer and photographer. “The ability to bend the arc of justice in a way. He passed that onto me and all of his students, and everyone he came in contact with. ‘If you don’t see the world you want to see, then you create that world.’ “
Mr. Ishisaka mentored countless students at the UW, and as the school’s associate dean of academic affairs, helped create the UW’s first service-learning opportunities with communities of color in the Seattle area.
“He was the dream academic foster father” for students of color and nontraditional students, said Hye-Kyung Kang, a professor at Seattle University who was a UW doctoral student under Mr. Ishisaka. His students’ projects questioned the normative narrative of social work, she said, which he loved and encouraged.
“He is the last of his kind of academics who are intellectual and so broad in knowledge,” Kang said. “Not the academic that only knows one slice of the field.”
She remembered when Mr. Ishisaka returned from a three-month sabbatical in Japan and found a crowd of people standing outside his office, waiting for an audience. Professors, students, deans, custodians.
“Everybody lined up,” Kang said. “They had to talk to ‘Uncle Tony’ and share and get advice.” Everything from how to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, to caring for Korean dogwood trees.
“He really showed you how to love a person, a family member, a student. How to really give us a home,” Kang said. “He was home for so many of us and he really is, to me, the touchstone. A role model for a life well lived.”
Mr. Ishisaka received the UW’s S. Sterling Munro Public Service Faculty Award in 2003 and the School of Social Work’s Living Human Treasure Award in 2008. He retired in 2009.
“He was uniquely attentive and genuinely interested in people,” said Dianne Narasaki, former executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
Six years ago, Mr. Ishisaka suffered a health crisis “where he basically died,” Naomi Ishisaka said. He spent weeks in the ICU — and then walked out. Doctors and nurses said they had never seen anyone so critically ill survive.
Not long after, the family held a birthday party that was more of a “living wake,” but Mr. Ishisaka insisted it be a thank-you to family, friends, colleagues and students who rallied around him.
“He was very humble,” Naomi Ishisaka said.
The family didn’t know how much time they had with him after that, she said, “So the last six years have sort of been a bonus. He kept fighting. It was pretty incredible.”
Mr. Ishisaka and his wife, Joanne, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on July 19. He loved a full house and pecan pie and taking back roads instead of the freeway.
Mr. Ishisaka is survived by his wife; two daughters; granddaughter Eveline Ishisaka; nieces Kory Ishisaka and Pamela Ishisaka; nephew Max Kurtz and son-in-law Ryan Bailey.
A memorial celebration is planned for Sept. 14 at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, 5011 Bernie Whitebear Way, in Seattle’s Discovery Park.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Anthony Hideki Ishisaka Endowed Memorial Fellowship, which provides financial assistance to students in the UW School of Social Work whose work will benefit communities of color.