Kip Tokuda, community activist, passes away at 66

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

Kip Tokuda

Kip Tokuda, a former four-term state representative from the 37th district and community activist who founded the Asian Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF), was past president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and served on the Mayor’s Seattle Police Department 20/20 initiative passed away on July 13. He was 66.

Kip Tokuda, a former four-term state representative from the 37th district and community activist who founded the Asian Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF), was past president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and served on the Mayor’s Seattle Police Department 20/20 initiative passed away on July 13. He was 66.

Rep. Sharon Santos, former Counsel General of Japan Kiyokazu Ota, the Honorable Kip Tokuda, and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen during the June 2012 event awarding Tokuda with the Order of the Rising Sun. (NWAW file photo)

He suffered a heart attack while fishing on Whidbey Island, according to Island County authorities.

“I can’t believe it,” said Wendy Tokuda, Kip’s sister, who lives in San Francisco but was visiting at the time of his passing. “What saddens me is that he was enjoying life so much, enjoying the time he spent with the girls [Tokuda adopted two daughters from China]. He was the happiest I could ever remember seeing. He loved the work he choose to do. We weren’t ready to see him go. We didn’t notice any sign that he wasn’t well.”

“Kip was a respected colleague and mentor during my service in the legislature,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. “He devoted his career to improving the lives of our region’s children and families. We have lost a dedicated public servant, a visionary leader and pioneer for the Asian American community, and devoted husband, father, brother, and son.”

Tokuda was drawn to public service at an early age. Growing up the son of interned Japanese Americans and the brother of a developmentally delayed sibling, Tokuda began working with Washington families as a social worker with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services following his graduation from the University of Washington with a Master’s of Social Work in 1969.

“As a kid, I never suspected he would go into politics,” said Wendy Tokuda. “When he did, he was made for it. His ability to make change for the better really showed … He was born right after the internment so it really affected his sense of justice and his desire to do something about it.”

“Also, Kip loved his disabled brother,” she continued. “When he was seriously sick, Kip would go to see him every day. As the legal guardian of his brother, Kip took his responsibility seriously.”

Before he was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 1993, he was appointed by then Gov. Booth Gardner to be the executive director of the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, leading the effort to develop policies, raise awareness, and advocate on behalf of children and families.

During his time as a state representative, Tokuda developed a reputation as a principled and honest politician who would always stand for what he believed in.

“In addition to being a much admired and very effective legislator, his greatest legacy is his work developing a new generation of leaders in the Asian community committed to change, compassion, and service,” said U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, who was governor of Washington during the time that Tokuda was a legislator.

In Olympia, Tokuda was a strong advocate for children, individuals with developmental disabilities, and families. He successfully passed a “Special Needs Adoption” bill to help improve the chances of adoption for special-needs children. He was also a core part of the passing of the “Homeless Children’s Lawsuit” bill, which provided services for over 60,000 homeless families with children in Washington state.

During the 2000 legislative session, Tokuda developed the Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Program, which provided funding to help teach the history and lessons of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Tokuda’s family was placed in an internment camp in Idaho. Tokuda was born shortly afterwards.

Apart from his work helping with families, Tokuda also spent time helping to grow the next generation of Asian American leaders. In 1998, he was one of the cofounders of the ACLF, a community-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to growing Asian and Pacific American leaders with a focus on social justice, community empowerment, and public service. Since 2003, the ACLF has granted an annual “Kip Tokuda Award,” which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the APA community.

“Kip made everyone feel like a best friend,” said Jason Liu, who took the ACLF leadership program in 2002.

“He treated the community like a best friend too, never hesitating to champion its many causes, to give voice to the voiceless, and to shower extreme devotion and generosity to all those around him. We’ll all miss Kip a lot, and his memory will always bring us smiles.”

In 2009, Tokuda was appointed the interim director of the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department by Mayor Mike McGinn. He served as interim director until his retirement in 2010. During his retirement, Tokuda focused on improving the Seattle Police Department. He worked with the SPD 20/20 Initiative and served on the city’s newly created Community Police Commission. In June of 2012, Tokuda was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan for his work strengthening relations between Japan and the United States.

“Kip was a real stand up guy,” said Al Sugiyama, executive director of the Executive Development Institute.

“He was truly an individual that you could count on. He always put community before everything else — except for family. He was someone that people really, really respected. You knew when Kip was speaking that he was speaking for the community, not because it benefited him or was convenient for him. He really inspired an entire generation of people.”

“His priority was always to make sure that individuals who were left out were brought back in,” Sugiyama continued. “Kip was a giant among giants. There was nothing he wouldn’t do if it meant he could help the less fortunate.”

Tokuda is survived by his wife, Barbara Lui; and his two daughters, Molly and Pei-Ming. (end)

There will be a public viewing at Bonney Watson on Capitol Hill at 1732 Broadway in Seattle, on Thursday, July 18 from 2 – 7 p.m.

A public memorial service will be held on Sunday, July 21, at 2 p.m., at 130 Kane Hall, at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Kip Tokuda Legacy Fund, which is currently being organized and will be used to support the causes to which Kip dedicated his life.

Northwest Asian Weekly staff can be reached at

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