In Memoriam

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Thomas Shigero Fujita ’56

A picture of Thomas Fujita

Thomas Shigeru Fujita ’56, February 11, 2012, in Portland. In 1942, when Tom was 11 years old, the federal government ordered him and his family—including brother Donald J. Fujita ’65—to leave their home in Milwaukie, Oregon, and move to the relocation center established for nikkei (Americans with Japanese ancestry) in Minidoka, Idaho. After the war, Tom returned to Portland, graduated from Lincoln High School, and earned a BA in chemistry from Reed. He went on to study at the University of Washington, earning an MS in organic chemistry. In 1959, he began his 40-year career at Oregon Health & Science University, where he taught advanced organic chemistry and worked primarily with J.H. Fellman as a research chemist in neurochemistry, studying acetylcholine esterase, the chief enzyme destroying acetylcholine (the primary neurotransmitter in the human nervous system). He also worked with R.T. Jones in molecular biochemistry. In addition, he did quality control and research and development for Cooper Laboratories. Ron McClard, Arthur F. Scott Professor of Chemistry at Reed [1984–], wrote, “Tom worked in my lab at Reed College back in the ’80s and he was the most persistently cheerful person I’ve ever known, and a very fine chemist as well. He also taught me to appreciate the superb pine mushroom [matsutake] with which he supplied me regularly. Tom seemed to be friends with virtually everybody.” Tom was married to Kay Kuntz Fujita, a piano teacher and calligrapher; they had four sons. Says Kay, “Tom was an amazing person, so intelligent, and always learning and studying, up to the end.” Outside of his work as a chemist, Tom enjoyed fishing. He was a member of the Portland Darts Club and Portland Chess Club and was skilled in social card games and track racing. He also collected original prints by world-class artists and supported the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Portland Opera Association, the American Chemical Society, and the American Civil Liberties Union. He had a passion for jazz and wrote of “one of the great moments in jazz history” that occurred when Dizzy Gillespie stepped on his toe at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco in 1966. “Embodying compassion and generosity, Tom shared his love and wisdom with all he encountered.” Survivors include Kay, their sons, five grandchildren, his brother, and four sisters.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2012

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