Mary Takayesu: Memories
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Bulletin, it is only fitting that we remember one of our magazine’s staunchest supporters and most loyal volunteers. Mary Takayesu passed away on December 8, 2007 and she was remembered last month with an even at Nikkei Place. The following was written for the occasion. JEG
When I came aboard as Editor of The Bulletin in the fall of 1993 I knew nothing about being an editor and very little about the Nikkei community. Fortunately I inherited a number of things when I took up the position:
I inherited a long-standing community publication that had been publishing since 1958, making it a year older than me.
I inherited several thousand loyal readers, all of whom knew a heck of a lot more than I did about the history of the community.
I inherited an ancient computer that was decrepit even by early 90s standards but was at least better than the one I owned.
I inherited a large group of volunteers who cheerfully showed up once a month to stick labels on The Bulletin so they could go to the Post Office for mailing.
I also inherited Frank and Mary. I soon learned that Frank and Mary Takayesu were the glue that kept everything running smoothly. They were relatively new to Vancouver, having relocated from the east late in life. I think they saw volunteering for the JCCA as a way of connecting with the community. Mary, being Mary, took it upon herself to make sure that things were done right and the two of them took charge of the memberships. They kept track of the membership payments as they came in, making note of who had moved, who had passed away, who was overdue on their payments.
Ironically, although Frank had worked for IBM up until his retirement, they didn’t trust computers, so while the membership list was fully computerized, they kept a parallel list, written out painstakingly by hand, on several thousand index cards. For me, coming in from the outside, it was pretty mind-boggling, and I dreaded one of them getting sick and not being able to update the list. I knew I would be lost on my own.
I have to say that it took us some time to get used to each other. Frank and Mary had their way of doing things, and I didn’t have a lot of patience for things being done the way they were done just because “that’s the way they were always done.” Still, I left them pretty much alone, and vice-versa.
Frank was the quiet one, preferring to keep his opinions to himself for the most part. Sometimes I would catch him muttering darkly to himself, but mostly he did what he had to do without fuss, frequently offering up an impish grin when someone told a joke. Mary wasn’t quite so shy.
I soon learned that she had an extremely well-honed sense of right and wrong. Most of our battles, such as they were, were precipitated by that same sense of fair play and obligation.
I remember we had quite a number of members who were several years behind on their membership dues. I got the idea of sending out a notice to people who were over three years in arrears. We did just that, inserting a fluorescent notice in the offending members’ Bulletins with a dire warning to the effect of “pay up or else.”
Many promptly paid up the overdue amount (sometimes several hundred dollars), some ignored the notice (or had moved away or had passed away, who could know?) and were deleted from the membership list. And then there were some who sent in a single year’s membership to cover their arrears. Mary, being Mary, of course promptly updated their membership by one year. So instead of being four years overdue, they were now three years overdue. I pointed out to her that while this was technically the right thing to do, it was probably self defeating as the member in question would most likely get discouraged and give up altogether. And besides, it was better to receive something than to receive nothing.
Mary was insistent. If she brought someone’s membership up to date without the proper payment, it wouldn’t be fair to all the other members who paid up properly. I eventually convinced her to look at it as a new membership: we would cancel their membership and start all over again from scratch. Mary grudgingly accepted this rationalization and brought their membership up to date, although it was clear this was an affront to her sense of how the world should run.
I miss those days. A couple of days before mailing day we would meet at the office. Mary would go through the recently received membership payments and update her index cards while I printed out the membership labels on our old dot matrix printer. Frank would sit on the couch with his highlighter pen and highlight the dates on overdue memberships. Invariably one of two things would happen partway through the printing: the computer would crash or the printer would jam up. Sometime both would happen simultaneously. The end result would be a lot of bad language on my part and a lot of wasted time. I usually told them to go for lunch while I straightened things out. Mary would invariably tell Frank to get IBM to donate a new computer to the JCCA so we wouldn’t have to go through this. Eventually, against all odds, we would get all the labels printed, with several hundred wrecked labels ending up in the garbage and my hair another shade of grey.
OK – so maybe I don’t miss the old dot matrix printer, but I miss working with Frank and Mary and I even have a soft spot for those old index cards, sitting neglected on the shelf. They haven’t been updated since Frank and Mary passed on. I’m sure one day the computer will go down, taking the membership list with it, and Mary will get the last laugh.
Mary was a proud woman, proud in the best sense of the word—not so much for herself, but for those she cared about. She was proud of her sister Violet, a talented painter and author of A Child in a Prison Camp. She made sure I gave her a profile in The Bulletin. She was proud of Frank and his wartime accomplishments. She was also proud of his Okinawan heritage, considering herself an Okinawan by marriage. The most excited I remember Mary being was when they returned from Okinawa in 2001 where they had attended the Third Uchinanchu Taikai, an event where Okinawans from all over the world return to Okinawa to renew their roots and their spirit. She was even proud of me, telling me often what good work I was doing, even when I myself had doubts.
After Frank died, Mary maintained her sense of independence—continuing to live on her own, even though her own illness was progressing. She happily got involved in the production of the book High School Education in a Wartime Camp with other alumni of the Notre Dame High School in New Denver. I was fortunate enough to be involved as well and got to learn something of those days in New Denver as Mary and Kim and the others reminisced. It let me see another side of Mary—a young girl coming into her own amidst the backdrop of the Internment.
Although Mary had to give up looking after the memberships once Frank passed away, she kept volunteering on mailing day as long her health would permit it, wheeling over from her home on her electric scooter. I’m afraid she wasn’t a very good driver! I would also see her at all the events at the Centre and I remember how her eyes would light up when she saw me, even more so if I had my girls with me. She would hold onto our hands tightly and just smile that smile of hers. It was difficult for her to talk towards the end. Although we were of different generations, there was a bond there, formed slowly over the years. Her daughter Chris told me the other day that Mary considered me a friend and that is something I shall treasure always.