Mike Watanabe, Asian American Drug Abuse Program’s former president and CEO, dies

Mike Norio Watanabe, who was affiliated with the Asian American Drug Abuse Program for 46 years, passed away peacefully in his home in the Crenshaw District in Los Angeles on Nov. 3, 2023. He was born on Aug. 23, 1946, in Pa‘auilo, Hawai‘i.

Watanabe graduated from Venice High School in 1964. He served in Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic and, upon returning, earned his bachelor’s from California State University, Northridge and also earned a master’s in social work the from University of California, Los Angeles. He received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Cal State Northridge, on May 21, 2017, “in recognition of his significant and exemplary contribution as an educator and celebrated leader in the field of substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment,” AADAP said in a statement.

He began working for the organization in 1975 as a counselor, and ultimately became the president and chief executive officer in 1982.

“His commitment, guidance, and leadership helped transform the agency into one of the largest comprehensive service providers across Los Angeles County, operating a dozen distinct programs through multiple service sites,” the statement said. “He mentored countless young social workers, community activists, and nonprofit workers who have gone on to leadership roles throughout LA County, nationwide, and even internationally. …. The attitude he established was that if you are in a position to help, then be generous for the good of the community.”

He is survived by his wife Suzanne (Suzie) Toshiko Tamaki Watanabe; brothers Morris (Linda) Watanabe and Victor Osaka; and nephew Joey Watanabe.

A public celebration of life will be held on Thursday, May 23, 2024, 4 p.m. PST at the Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. In lieu of flowers or koden, donations can be made to AADAP “In Memory of Mike.”

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