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The "Godfather of Old Town" revitalized Portland's inner city

William Sumio Naito ’49, Trustee

William Sumio Naito ’49, May 8, 1996, in Portland, from cancer, eight days following diagnosis.

Bill came to Reed after serving three years in the U.S. Army (Japanese American 442nd Division) in the Pacific during World War II. After graduating with a degree in economics and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, he went on to earn a master's degree in economics from the University of Chicago. In 1951, he married Millicent (Micki) Sonley in Chicago, and they moved to Portland, where Bill joined his family’s import business, Norcrest China Company.

Elected to the Reed board of trustees in 1974, Bill was immediately asked to serve on the executive committee. He chaired an ad hoc committee to investigate the need for additional student housing in 1979, and chaired the buildings & grounds committee from 1982 to 1993. He later served on the Campaign for Reed College steering committee as chairman of the Annual Fund committee, and remained on the board until his death.

In a memorandum to the Reed community, President Steve Koblik [1992–2001] said of Bill: “In many ways, Bill personified fundamental Reed values: consistency, over time, to uncompromising standards of excellence; intellectual rigor; an unrelenting work ethic; and an insistence on challenging, civil discourse.”

A Portland native, Bill spoke openly of the pain of his forced departure to Salt Lake City as a teenager to avoid Japanese internment. He later joined with other civic leaders to create the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Portland’s Waterfront Park. The plaza, dedicated in 1990, features stone sculptures bearing the names of Japanese internment camps as well as the Bill of Rights (the latter hung above Bill’s desk). “Adversities sharpen and toughen people,” he said. “[People who face adversity] are the people who come up with dreams.”

Bill dreamed big. He ignored his banker’s advice and bought an old hotel in the heart of skid row to open a retail outlet for giftware from East Asia. That building, which became Portland’s Import Plaza, marked the beginning of a real estate empire. He went on to spearhead the revitalization of Portland’s Old Town and was named Portland First Citizen by the Portland Association of Realtors in 1982. He was influential in the development of Pioneer Courthouse Square, light rail, and—from his deathbed—the building of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. “I’m the local busybody,” he delighted in saying of himself.

Commenting on the value of a legacy in a 1995 interview in Reed magazine, Bill said: “Here’s something I read a while ago: A person realizes that ‘you can’t take it with you,’ so what you want to do is leave something that’s splendid.”

Bill’s legacy includes a revitalized Portland downtown, a Reedie granddaughter in Erica Naito-Campbell ’04 (who also graduated Phi Beta Kappa), and now, through the generosity of his widow, Millicent, the former Steele Hall residence on the north side of the Reed canyon has been named in his memory. Other survivors include children Anne, Ken, Steve, and Bob, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

More about Bill's legacy in Portland.

Appeared in Reed magazine: spring 2007: "News of the College"

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