OBITUARY: Masako Martha Suzuki

Masako Martha Suzuki

SUZUKI, MASAKO MARTHA passed away peacefully Feb. 16, 2012. She was at her home, and surrounded by her loving family. She was 90. Born Aug. 28, 1921, Martha was a native of San Francisco. She was enrolled in classes at UC Berkeley when the U.S. declared war on Japan in 1941.

During World War II, Martha and her family, along with other Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area, were forcibly removed to the Tanforan detention center and then to the Topaz, Utah concentration camp. Martha was allowed to leave Topaz and complete her degree in Minnesota during the war. She then returned to the SF Bay Area to accept a position at UC Berkeley as a microbiologist. Martha often reflected that her years at Cal were some of the happiest times of her life.

She left her position at Cal and went to work at the Takahashi Trading Company, which her sister and brother in-law started after the war. Together, they turned the company into one of the most successful Japanese import and wholesale and retail companies in the United States.

Martha married Risaburo Suzuki in 1960, and lived and worked in Japan for 5 years with her husband before returning to San Francisco. Her husband passed away in 1983.

Although many of her friends knew Martha as an astute businesswoman, investor and collector and admirer of Japanese culture and art, she also had a great passion for purchasing unusual cars. Martha often claimed that she inherited this passion from her father. Throughout her life, Martha owned about every collector car available. Her last car was a limited model BMW, which took 5 years to build and could go up to 180 miles per hour. She loved to drive her car 90 to 100 miles an hour, down the freeway, even up until a few months before her passing.

Martha’s legacy will be continued through her generous gifts to many local Japanese American organizations: the Asian Art Museum, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, the Morikami Museum in Florida, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and Christ United Presbyterian Church. She also helped to establish The Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation. Through her philanthropy, she helped change and improve the lives of thousands of people. She always believed that it is not about how much money you have, but rather what you can do to make a difference in people’s lives.

In 2010, Martha was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays from the government of Japan for her contribution toward improving U.S.-Japan relations.

Martha is survived by her only sister, Tomoye Tami Takahashi; her niece, Masako Takahashi; nephew, Norman Takahashi; and sister-in-law, Setsuko Suzuki, of Tokyo Japan.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 3 p.m. It is open to friends and acquaintances. Please contact Masako Takahashi for details at (415) 577-5228 or by email at virtualmasako@gmail.com.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to either the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California or Christ United Presbyterian Church.

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