SAN FRANCISCO — Sally Sumiye Osaki passed away peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 30. She was 88 years old.
Born on Sept. 18, 1932, she was born the youngest of six siblings to Tadahiko and Chika Noda on a small farm outside Selma, Calif. Both her parents immigrated from Kumamoto in the early 1900s. Due to the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, from the ages of 9 to 12, she grew up in the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona.
The family returned to Selma in 1945, and her parents continued to farm until their retirement. After graduation from Selma Union High School, she moved to San Francisco to attend a dental assistant school.
She married Wayne Yoshito Osaki in 1958 and raised four sons in San Francisco.
An active stay-at-home mother for more than 20 years, Osaki was a regular school volunteer and served as president of the PTA’s of the schools attended by her four sons from 1963 to 1980.
In the late ’60s she advocated desegregating the public school district. In 1979, she successfully organized city-wide parent sit-ins at the Board of Education during a seven-week strike to persuade the board members and the teachers’ union to negotiate and end the strike.
The first Japanese American woman to work in city politics and government, Osaki was a political consultant for several local election campaigns. In 1979, she was the coordinator of volunteer operations for the run-off campaign of Dianne Feinstein’s first term as mayor. She went on to work as the administrative assistant to Supervisor Louise Renne, providing representation for the Asian American community, which was underrepresented at City Hall.
In 1981, she worked with Renne and Feinstein to introduce a resolution to support redress for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. San Francisco became one of the nation’s first cities to apologize for and acknowledge this unconstitutional wrongdoing.
One of Osaki’s proudest achievements was successfully establishing funding for the first Asian American residential substance abuse program.
In 1983, a mock trial was convened by Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Hanlon in the “Court of Historical Review” to determine if the fortune cookie originated in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Osaki participated to prove that the origin of the fortune cookie was Japanese and not Chinese. Following her research, she presented documentation that the fortune cookie was introduced in San Francisco around 1910 by Makoto Hagiwara, the founder of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Osaki was amused that for over 30 years, she continued to be sought after for her research on the fortune cookie by various media sources. In the book “Fortune Cookie Chronicles” by Jennifer Lee, the author’s own investigation concluded that Osaki was correct.
For the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Osaki was the director of volunteers, responsible for selecting and assigning over 5,000 volunteers from throughout the country. She often described working intense 15-hour days of an unbelievably exciting convention that led to the historic nomination of the first women, Geraldine Ferraro, to be a vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket.
The Democratic Convention chairperson, Gov. Martha Layne Collins of Kentucky, commissioned Osaki a Kentucky Colonel, the highest honor bestowed by a Kentucky governor, to recognize outstanding service to the community, state, and nation.
Osaki later worked for Feinstein and served as her program manager and budget analyst to the Health Department. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, she served as staff to the Mayor’s AIDS Task Force. She later worked for Mayor Art Agnos before becoming the executive assistant to the director of the Health Department.
In 2003, Osaki proudly retired after 22 years of service in the legislative, executive, and administrative branches of city government for the City and County of San Francisco.
No matter how busy she was with work, volunteering, or raising her children, she played poker every month with the same group of women for over 50 years. She enjoyed watching the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and Golden State Warriors, playing mahjong, researching her family ancestry, and taking cruises. She loved growing orchids, looked forward to the Feinstein staff reunions, talking to the women at the dog park, and the annual family vacations to Donner Lake.
A lifelong Democrat, while on hospice care she wanted to stay alive long enough to witness President Trump’s defeat and Kamala Harris’ inauguration as vice president. She achieved that dream, passing away ten days later.
Osaki, a breast and colon cancer survivor, was predeceased by all her brothers and sisters, Masaru (Buzz), Haruko (Herky), Kenji, Satoru (passed away at age 2), and Yoshiye (Yo). Her husband Wayne passed away in 2015. She leaves behind four sons, Glenn, Paul, Dean (Diane), and Jon (Julie), and three grandchildren, Shannon, Mika, and Lee.
A virtual celebration of life service was held for family and friends on March 6. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her memory to the Japanese Cultural and Community of Northern California or the Japanese Community Youth Council.