Field Notes

PDX icon George Azumano dies; son-in-law Sho Dozono remembers him

PDX icon George Azumano dies; son-in-law Sho Dozono remembers him
George Azumano.

“He lived his life without bitterness and did what he could to bring smiles to the faces of the people he met,” says Sho Dozono of his father-in-law, George Azumano.

Azumano died Monday. He was 95-years-old and will be remembered as a Portland icon.

“He was born here, lived his life here and was proud to call Portland home,” Dozono says. “Once, he met a guy on the corner who demanded to know where he was from. He kept trying to tell him he was an American.

“That’s what he told people – he was an American. He was an Oregonian. And he was proud of both.”

Azumano’s parents were Japanese immigrants who owned a grocery store in Albina. He went to Jefferson High School and graduated from the University of Oregon. After that, along with so many others, he joined the Army.

“He was stationed off San Francisco when Pearl Harbor happened,” says Dozono. “And, because he was of Japanese descent, he was discharged.”

Azumano returned to Portland and the day he came home, his father was carted off by the FBI. Azumano and the rest of his family were held at an internment camp in Idaho. He was twice allowed out – once for a period to work in nearby sugar beet fields and the other to work for an automobile battery company.

“He was frustrated by what had happened but never upset or angry,” says Dozono. “He knew there was discrimination and he stayed focused on trying to better his world.”

After being released from the internment camp, Azumano made his way back to Portland where he started an insurance company that catered mostly to other Japanese-Americans.

“He knew there were a lot of people that were having trouble getting insurance and he wanted to help them,” says Dozono.

Many of his clients started asking him for travel advice and the insurance company grew in to the travel company that still bears his name.

“Travel was a perfect fit for him,” says Dozono. “He was so curious about so much, about things around him, about the world. When he was 89, he went on a tour of some of the states of the former Soviet Union.

“He loved to learn new things.”

Dozono says his father-in-law taught him much, not just about business but about how to be a good person, how to treat others.

“He was a quiet person, unassuming,” says Dozono. “He treated people well and when it came to business – even though everyone called him Mr. Azumano – he was just another of the employees.

“Every morning, he would grab the broom and sweep the place. He cared about things.”

One of the things he cared deeply about was US-Japanese relations.

In 1962, he organized the first-ever trade delegation from a state to Japan, accompanying then-Governor Mark Hatfield and other business leaders. His relationship with Hatfield led to Azumano being appointed to the Regional Federal Civil Rights Commission.

But it was travel that held his heart.

“He loved to be able to help people see Japan and he really loved to bring people to Oregon,” says Dozono.

It was an interest that led to Governor Atiyeh naming him to the Oregon Tourism Commission and helped motivate him to help arrange for the first non-stop flights between Portland and Tokyo.

His contributions were recognized on both sides of the Pacific. In 1982, the Japanese Government awarded him the Emperor’s Medal of the 4th order of the Rising Sun and he later had audiences with Emperors Hirohito and Akihito.

“He gave so much to so many people,” says Dozono. “He was active in the Methodist church. He cared about the communities of which he was a member and cared about others as well. He was always smiling, always a gentleman.

“He was just happy being appreciated for who he was.”

Dozono says he owes so much to his father-in-law.

“He – and his generation - paved the way for myself and my generation,” says Dozono."They were pioneers.

“We stand on their shoulders. And we are grateful.”