Remembering Betty Inouye
by Lori North
Do you really know your mother or your father? I don’t mean what foods they like, what they do or did for a living, or if they played on a baseball team when they were younger. Do you know what inspired them to make the decisions they did, what inspired their mid- and long-term plans throughout their life? What plan they had for their own life, your life, and what impact they wanted to have on the people around them?
As children we loved to hear stories of what it was like when they were young. But they were entertainment and as we grew up the ones we remembered were usually the funny ones. Our parents nurture us and take us on vacations and if all goes well, hope we grow up to be good people as adults. The smart ones don’t try and push us too hard towards their ideologies as we grow up because they know that the harder they push, the more we may ‘tune out’ the message.
My mother, Betty Inouye née Miyazaki, was a career woman. The first woman administrator (vice-principal) of a secondary school for which she received the YWCA Women of Distinction award in 1988. She was an active member of the Lady Lions Club, the Kamloops Multicultural Association, the Kamloops Buddhist Temple, the Kamloops Japanese Canadian Association (KJCA), and many of the other related organizations at the Provincial and National level. My father was also actively involved in all of the same organizations so I thought that this was just something they did together as a couple. She had a wall full of certificates for service, appreciation, and achievement but she never explained what she did that earned her those honors. She was actively involved and they honored her for it.
When my mother died in June we received hundreds of cards and messages of sympathy. “She was a special/great person”, “she will be greatly missed”, “we wouldn’t have the (Kamloops Japanese) Cultural Centre without her”, and “she inspired me”. She was described as caring, helpful, a go-getter, inspirational, stubborn, persuasive, passionate and visionary. But when I spoke to some of the people she worked with on various committees and boards I could not get any definite stories about what it was that she did that caused so much admiration. After my mother died I began to wonder who she was and what “made her tick”. It was too late to ask her personally, so I had to look back in my memories and search out the clues.
In 1973 my grandfather, Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki, wrote his autobiography. My mother typed and edited the 173 page document in a time before word-processing. I remember the whole family involved in collating that book – pages were piled through the dining room, living room, and down the hall-way and my sisters and I would go down the lines picking up pages to be later stapled and folded. The proceeds from the sale of that book went to the Canadian Kidney Foundation and it is now in its 3rd printing. As we were working on that project my mother would point out a page and tell me more about what happened during that event in grandfather’s life.
Mom was the Newsletter editor and publisher for the Kamloops Japanese Canadian Association for 30 years from 1976 through 2006. During that time I think I felt that she was doing that because of her typing skills as her primary subject as a teacher was business and typing. She later put everything together in the book titled KJCA the First 30 Years (plus one) which chronicled the activities and events of the KJCA. It was when she was putting that book together that I began to understand that keeping history was important. Recent conversations with my father revealed that Mom’s intention was to make sure that the right information was conveyed in the newsletters to keep members updated on events that were taking place and to make sure that reports of those events were accurate.
Her latest committee was the KJCA Museum and Archives Committee. I remember going with her four years ago to visit the National Museum at Nikkei Place in Burnaby to meet with Linda Reid and the staff there to learn about creating and maintaining a museum. She would talk about her plans to have a museum in Kamloops and to gather the personal histories of our seniors before they are gone. Linda told me recently that they were very frank and honest about the difficulties that are faced by a museum to get funding and staffing to do the project my mother had in mind, but my mother would wave those objections aside and insisted on moving forward. The Kamloops museum is now open with items on display from the internment years gathered from various families in the communities. Oral histories are being gathered so that the stories and lives of those who lived through that time are available so that future generations may learn.
This year, my mother suggested that the annual ‘Hinamatsuri’ (Girls Day) events be advertised to include everyone 9-months to 90 years. It became a very successful multi-generational event with Japanese-born grandmothers and Canadian-born granddaughters learning about each other through the dolls.
Over the past few years, my mother would tell me about her projects and committees. How hard it was to get volunteers to do the interviewing, how grateful she was for the volunteers that she had gathered around her and how important it is to get this information before our elders are gone. She would say that I need to start writing down my life now – what I remember from when I was younger, and events that happen as I go along. This did not have to be a diary or journal – just a record of significant events through my life. It was not for my benefit, as I know what I have done; it was for my children and grandchildren who will have questions later in their lives, perhaps even after I am gone. If needed, it would be available to help some future museum or group find out what it was to be a third-generation Japanese Canadian woman during these years. After she was gone, I found two documents in her computer – a list of her life (employment, volunteer activities, recognitions and awards) as well as a narrative of her teaching career – where and what she taught and her impressions and memories of events during that career. Both documents have revealed to me things that I did not know about her.
I now feel that I know my mother better and have an idea of what motivated her. Preserving history, both on a personal and wider community level was her life goal. From helping my grandfather with his autobiography, to keeping the newsletters, bringing the generations together for events at the cultural centre and participating on local, provincial, and national committees through the Japanese Canadian and Multicultural associations. She felt that it was important to make sure that our histories, personal- and community-wide are kept so that we can learn from our accomplishments and mistakes.
I believe others that knew and worked with her saw that vision that she had. They could not put it into words because they, like I did before, only saw a little bit of the big picture that my mother had in mind.
Betty Inouye – My mother, my life teacher
by Adele MacNeill
The older I get, the more I appreciate my mother and the learning opportunities she provided to me. In my childhood and teens, she taught me to work hard and to be responsible. In my twenties, she provided the financial and emotional support to find a career of my own choosing. In my thirties and forties, she always listened patiently to my work woes and made me feel better when I was ill. Throughout all of the years, I made my own decisions – she never told me what I should do (with the exception of stop worrying – I am a slow learner on this one).
In my late forties and fifties, I learned more lifelong lessons from my mother. They were:
1. Marriages can keep getting better, even after 50 years of marriage. I watched my parents’ marriage get closer and stronger, as they dealt with health challenges in recent years. I strive to follow their example with my own marriage.
2. Life is about living, not dying. I once asked my mother if she was afraid of dying. She said in a very matter of fact voice, “No.” I learned you are able to focus on the present if you are not afraid of dying.
3. Happiness can be found in enjoying everyday life with family and friends. My last memory of my mother was going out for lunch with my parents, and sharing prawn tempura with my mom. She was very happy.
With her passing in June this year, I have learned another lesson. At her memorial, many people talked about the impact she had on their lives and how her influence changed them for the better. I heard how my mother welcomed them into the community, shared her knowledge with them and provided mentorship. I gathered comfort knowing that my mother lives on in the influence she had on others. I also saw how this is in my own family. My sisters and I all have some traits and mannerisms from my mother. While I appreciated the traits, I used to get frustrated when I noticed some mannerisms of my mother appearing in myself or my sisters, but now I cherish them as being part of my mother. The lesson I learned is that my mother lives on in the people she influenced, and that is how I want to live my life.
We are thankful for the overwhelming support and condolences to my family from the community. We are grateful for having been able to share our time with Betty with her friends and colleagues.
Betty Inouye – Memories of a best friend
by Teri Langlois
She was my best friend. If you think of your best friend, you can probably imagine how hard it has been for me to not have her in my life. There have been moments when the sadness has been unbearable, knowing that I am unable to tell her how my day went, celebrate successes, get sage advice from her, laugh with her, and have her support. I have wondered when these sad times will cease (I have been told ‘never’) and so I was surprised when I had a happy moment when I remembered something I learned from her a long time ago.
I would think about what I didn’t have and she would tell me how I should appreciate what I did have. With her it was tell them once or twice and then let it be. I realized that when she did tell you her mind, you should listen because it was bound to make you a better person.
When she passed away I thought about what I no longer had, my best friend. But I remembered her advice and thought about what I do have, all due to her. I have my memories of her as a leader, mentor, friend, and amazing role model, and I have what I learned and gained from her.
• Organization, time management, and focusing on what matters she was the most organized person I have ever me. She worked full time, cared for a large family, for many years taught Japanese at night, and volunteered every day of her life. She made it look effortless and never a challenge.
• Passion for volunteering I will never meet her level of volunteering. She was tireless in her dedication and commitment to all things that supported and promoted Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and Japanese culture and heritage.
• My Masters when I was in the thick of completing my graduate degree, she emailed me at the exact moment when I needed the encouragement to go on. She wrote that she knew how it must be tough but knew I could do it. She told me that when she was teaching “they had wanted me to do my masters but I told them I didn’t have the time”. She was committed to her students, her community, and her family; putting everyone before herself.
• Don’t sweat the small stuff she never worried about the little things. She was not a worrier. She just put her mind to it and got things done.
• Adaptability she told me that she had wanted to be a pharmacist but because her high school didn’t have the required science courses (she came from a high school graduating class of 4 students!) she studied commerce at UBC instead. When the dean of the UBC Commerce department told the women in her class that women were not welcomed in business, she took an education major and became an accomplished commerce teacher. She didn’t appear to fret over what she couldn’t accomplish; she just adjusted her goals and excelled.
• Selflessness she worked, volunteered, and provided her friendship without any need for reciprocity or acknowledgement. In 1998 she won the Women of Distinction Pioneer Spirit Award but she would have been just as happy if the other nominee was selected. Despite her selflessness she was adamant that others should be recognized and made a point of identifying those around her who volunteered.
The best thing I have from her is the memory of what a truly wonderful mother she was. Because she was not only my best friend she was my mother. In the book Not Just a Tea Party: Celebrating Women’s Contributions to Community Life by Archibald and Drolet she asked that the chapter written about her be titled Watari Dori. She explained it translates to “it’s gonna be better in the future”. I appreciate what I have from my mother and trust her vision for the future.