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Remembering Bill Hosokawa

Living memorial honors late Asian-American pioneer in journalism


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Bill Hosokawa dies at 92

DENVER – It wasn’t exactly what the late Bill Hosokawa had in mind.


According to his friends and family, the former Denver Post editor and honorary Consul General of Japan in Colorado was a humble man – a man who felt uneasy when he was recognized for his contributions and accomplishments. After he died, his family fulfilled his wishes to have a small private service and scattered his and his wife Alice’s ashes at their favorite location.


But for a man who gave so much to the community, his peers had other things in mind.


“In the days following his death, many, many of his friends wanted to do something to honor his remarkable life, and we came to understand this was something bigger than any of us,” said Susan Boatright, Hosokawa’s second-oldest child. “So after much agonizing, we gave into pressure and here we are.


“Sorry, dad – I know you’ll understand.”


A living memorial remembering Hosokawa was held Feb. 16 at the Gates Concert Hall on the University of Denver campus.


Hundreds gathered for the two-hour ceremony which featured Hosokawa’s grandchildren reading excerpts from his book, “Out of the Frying Pan,” a video tribute and eulogies from luminaries such as former Japanese American Citizens League National President Cressy Nakagawa and Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colo.


“His legacy is too valuable to just leave in vain,” said Bob Sakata, a longtime friend and chair of the Living Memorial Remembering Bill Hosokawa Committee.


Photo by Joe Nguyen

Former JACL National President Cressy Nakagawa gives a eulogy during the Living Memorial Remembering Bill Hosokawa Feb. 16 at the University of Denver.

Hosokawa was born in Seattle in 1915 to immigrants from Hiroshima, Japan. While in college at the University of Washington, an adviser told him to drop out of journalism school “because no newspaper in the country would hire a Japanese boy,” according to his biography.


“He was told, ‘You can’t be a journalist,’” Rocky Mountain News Publisher John Temple said. “And he didn’t let anything stand in his way. So when young people today look at journalism, ‘Oh, what are the problems?’ and ‘What’s the future?’ Bill would just say, ‘Do what you love, it will work out.’ It worked for him.”


Unable to find work in the states, he traveled overseas and worked at English-language publications in Asia before returning to the U.S. in October 1941, five weeks before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Seven months later, he and his family were among the 115,000 Japanese Americans sent to an internment camp. But rather than staying angry, he used this period as a motivating factor that shaped his career.


“‘You can’t stay angry for 50 years. I was never an activist like Minoru Yasui … I’ve always regarded myself as a journalist,” Temple said, quoting Hosokawa. “‘It was my job to write about what happened to us. It was then that I became devoted to fairness newspaper reporting.’


“That devotion stands as a model to those of us who follow him.”


Ritter said that his attitude helped create a healing atmosphere for Colorado.


“I think just having a healing spirit as a prominent man to have approached for his story the way he did was a healing thing for our community,” he said, referring to Hosokawa’s time in a Japanese internment camp. “He could have been angry, he could have been bitter … but I think his attitude that he took for it allowed for us as a state to get beyond the mistakes that were made in that internment.”


He would go on to work for The Denver Post where he was a foreign correspondent who covered the Korean and Vietnam wars before taking on a variety of editor positions.


“He was just a calming guy,” said Fred Brown, retired Capitol Bureau chief for The Denver Post. “In a newspaper office, there are a lot of people who are very frantic and they would fly off the handle. … Bill could just take everything in stride. Nothing ever got him riled up. Occasionally his language would get a little salty, but his voice would never elevate to dangerous levels.”


After retiring from the Post, he served as an ombudsman columnist for the Rocky Mountain News for several years. He has also written a number of books that told the stories of Japanese Americans.


According to Sakata, a bust honoring Hosokawa is being considered for Sakura Square, as well as college scholarships in his name. But all this prompted one final response from the humble man.


“There was a familiar voice trying to get my attention so I closed my eyes and looked up and there was the spirit of Bill,” Sakata said. “The first thing he did was scolded me for spearheading something like that was so undeserved.”


Joe Nguyen is the editor in chief of AsiaXpress.com. Joe can be reached at Joe@asiaxpress.com.

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