Unveiling of a plaque for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye at the Heart Mountain incarceration site in 2014. From left: Shirley Ann Higuchi, Irene Hirano Inouye, Doug Nelson, Sen. Alan Simpson, Secretary Norman Mineta, Floyd Mori. (Photo courtesy of Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation)

When we opened our interpretive center with the Pledge of Allegiance in August 2011, Irene Hirano Inouye stood front and center with us. That’s where she spent her whole life as a leader in the Japanese American community.

A daughter of Los Angeles, she grew up with the legacy of the Japanese American incarceration. She stood up for her community and protected its values, an activism that culminated in the founding of the Japanese American National Museum.

Irene’s list of community work is almost too long to put in one place. They include chairing the Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Center and serving on boards for the Washington Center, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; and chairing the advisory board of the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, UCLA. She was also a trustee and past chair of the Ford and Kresge foundations.

The Pledge of Allegience at the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, August 2011. From left: Melba Vasquez, president of the American Psychological Association, Irene Hirano Inouye, Judge Lance Ito, Doug Nelson, Shirley Ann Higuchi, Steve Leger, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Secretary Norman Mineta, Sen. Alan Simpson. (Photo by Don Tanguilig)

A graduate of USC, where she also earned her master’s degree, Irene led the T.H.E. Clinic for Women for 13 years before becoming the president and CEO of JANM.

In 2008, she founded the U.S.-Japan Council to strengthen the ties between the two countries. Hundreds of business leaders and elected officials from both countries have benefited from the ties she helped create.

As the wife of legendary Sen. Daniel Inouye, she helped carry on his tremendous legacy. She joined us again at Heart Mountain in August 2014 to dedicate a plaque in the senator’s honor.

We are saddened to hear of her passing Tuesday, but we know her work will live on. We will see it each time we pass through the doors of the Japanese American National Museum or work with any of the groups that benefited from her generosity and wisdom.

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