OBITUARY: Karen Tomine

SACRAMENTO — Karen Tomine, described as “a dedicated and passionate advocate,” passed away on July 4, 2010 after an eight-year bout with breast cancer. She was 63.

“Karen had tried every chemo regimen available over the course of eight years for her HER2-neu breast cancer, including targeted therapies,” her husband Chris told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “The advancement of the disease was slowed but could not be halted.”

Tomine held numerous roles in business as well as community groups, including serving as executive director of the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation, the Sacramento County Bar Association, the Sacramento Law Foundation and the Sacramento Asian-Pacific Chamber of Commerce, among many others.

She was also on the board of civic groups such as the Sacramento Discovery Museum and the Sacramento World Affairs Council, and formed her own consulting firm, Capitol Outsource, which specialized in governmental relations.

The sole proprietor of Tomine Designs, she had previously served as director of the Jesse Marvin Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program, director of International and Domestic Relations for the California state Assembly and principal consultant to then-Assembly speaker Willie Brown.

A 1998 co-president of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, Tomine and Sue Hida launched the chapter’s first Multiracial Forum in 1999, and they continued as co-chairs of this continuing event through 2004. She was also a founding member and former vice chair of CAPITAL (Coalition of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership).

“Depending on the situation and/or the person, Karen could be a very affectionate, caring and loving person or a very direct and ‘no-nonsense’ person,” said her husband Chris.

Tomine was born in Sacramento to a Japanese American mother, Avis Nakamoto Skinner, and Scots-Irish American father, James Skinner. She graduated from Elk Grove High School and California State University, Sacramento.

Georgette Imura, a longtime friend and fellow community advocate, recalled when the two of them were working in the California state legislature in the mid-1970s.

“She worked for Assemblyman Floyd Mori, one of only two Asian legislators at that time,” Imura recalled, in remarks prepared for a eulogy at Tomine’s July 13 memorial service. “There were only a handful of us API staffers in the capitol then, so we naturally formed an alliance.

“We formed the Asian Pacific legislative staff caucus,” Imura continued. “Our main objective was to encourage the API community to become better informed and more involved in state government.”

Imura noted that the stereotype of Asian women as being “passive” was a challenge at a time when the “old boys network” in the state legislature was pervasive.

“Karen met and overcame that challenge with intelligence, professionalism, and a strong work ethic,” said Imura. “She set a strong example for other API women to follow.”

Tomine was determined not to let her illness get her down, Imura noted. “She showed us what true courage is all about,” said Imura. “She never complained about her illness or felt sorry for herself. … She just moved forward with purpose and good humor.”

Tomine is survived by her husband Chris, son Paul Sonoda, daughter Angela Sonoda Knutson, stepson Dylan Tomine, stepson Adrian Tomine and sister Nola.

A memorial service was held on July 13, at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento Betsuin.

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