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OFFICIAL STATEMENT: The passing of Irene Hirano Inouye

11 Apr 2020 9:55 AM | Anonymous

Please see a message below from the US - Japan Council as well as a personal message from our Honorary Consul General on the recent passing of Irene Hirano Inouye.

Message from the USJC Board of Directors Chair Phyllis Campbell

It is with profound sadness that I must inform you of the passing of U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye on April 7, following an extended illness. We extend our deepest condolences to her family.   

I know we are all devastated by this news. Irene was a singular figure in U.S.-Japan relations, respected by leaders on both sides of the Pacific as she carried out the mission of USJC. Since the founding of the Council, she infused the organization with her wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit, kept her pulse on every aspect of USJC while keeping her eye on the strategic vision, and managed to approach every challenge with fearlessness and determination.    

Back in January when she wrote to the USJC membership about her plans to retire later this year and assist in the Board of Directors’ search for a new CEO, she expressed the hope that her leadership of USJC will have made a lasting contribution to the U.S.-Japan relationship. Serving as president of the U.S.-Japan Council, she wrote, “has been an honor of a lifetime.”  

I hope Irene realized that it was actually our honor to have known her. Many of you have your own wonderful memories of Irene from USJC, from her community activities, and from her previous positions, including as the president and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum. For me, she was and always will be an inspiration and a model of leadership. 

While current circumstances will prevent us from gathering in person to pay tribute to Irene, her family will share with us any plans for a future memorial service after the current global crisis has ended. Her family has asked that, in lieu of flowers or cards, donations be made in Irene’s name to the U.S.-Japan Council. 

In addition to her leadership of USJC, Irene’s professional and community activities included serving as Chair and Trustee, Ford Foundation; Chair and Trustee, Kresge Foundation; Chair, Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Center; Chair of the Advisory Board, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California at Los Angeles; Trustee, Washington Center; Trustee, Independent Sector, and member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; member of the Advisory Board, Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; Chair, Board of Directors of the American Association of Museums; Board Member, National Trust for Historic Preservation; Member, National Board Smithsonian Institution; member, Toyota Corporation’s Diversity Advisory Board; member, Business Advisory Board of Sodexho Corporation; President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by Presidential appointment; and Chair, California Commission on the Status of Women. 

Until a new CEO is named, Irene’s responsibilities at USJC will be supported by Chief Operating Officer Terri Swetnam and Executive Vice President Laura Winthrop Abbot. 

In the meantime, I know you join me in mourning the loss of a most vibrant and iconic woman, who graced us with her friendship and extraordinary leadership.  

Very sincerely yours,


Message from Mark Jackson, Honorary Consul General of Japan in Alabama


Mrs. Irene Hirano Inouye

It is with great personal sadness that I learned of Mrs. Irene Hirano Inouye’s passing earlier today.

Throughout her life, she dedicated herself to the success of the Japan-USA relationship. Having been the wife of Japan-born US Senator Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and the founder/CEO of the US Japan Council, she never tired of promoting the cause of Tomodachi (friendship) between the two countries.

Hers was a story that spanned a lifetime.

Her many accomplishments are catalogued across Japan and the United States; most recently in Alabama.

Her bold keynote speech at the Japan America Society of Alabama 30th Anniversary Annual Dinner in September 2019, heralded the commitment both nations made to each other and to the world. She spoke of her life, her struggles, her successes and of her partnership with her husband. Her speech was informational and inspiring.

All who were in attendance will remember her presentation.

The executive director of JASA, Ms. Jolie Thevenot, summed up her feelings by saying “the confidence and passion with which she spoke was infectious and incredibly motivating for me in my work with JASA.” She further added, “it was a night I will always remember”.

We will miss Mrs. Inouye. She left her mark on the world by making it a better place. Why? The answer is simple- because she cared.

-8 April, 2020

Mark Jackson

Honorary Consul General of Japan


Tel: +1 (205) 703-0960

2081 Columbiana Rd #10

Vestavia Hills, AL 35216


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