Distinguished alumnus, former college president John Ishii dies

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

John IshiiLacey, Wash. - A Saint Martins High School and College graduate, who went on to become president of the institution while working to foster a better understanding of cultural differences between Asians and Americans, died on March 18.

John D. Ishii, Ph.D., died in Centralia after a series of strokes which left him quiet and in need of constant nursing. Father Kilian Malvey, O.S.B., will officiate the funeral mass, which will be held March 23 at 10:30 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lacey. The college is in the process of planning its own memorial service.

"One of the most significant things about Dr. Ishii was his world prospective. He saw things in a global prospective at a time when a lot of us hadn't even started to," said Norma Shelan, who first realized the compassion Ishii possessed, when she was hired as a professor at Saint Martin's in 1978 and he offered to help her move boxes. "Whether you were sitting in on his class or just casually talking to him, his profound perspective shone through.

"I remember after he started the Institute of Pacific Rim Studies, he was explaining to me the importance of providing our students with a positive experience. He knew a young man who had a terrible experience when he came to the U.S. and went on to be an important political figure in the Pacific Rim, but remained bitter toward the U.S. Dr. Ishii said every one of our students needed to be treated with great respect and hospitality, which are Benedictine traits, because they will impact the world and our future."

Ishii, who was born in Seattle, had a deep love for teaching, learning and working for the betterment of society, qualities that were evident when he entered Saint Martin's High School in the fall of 1934. He graduated valedictorian of his high school class in 1938 and continued his education at Saint Martin's College until World War II. In 1942, soon after completing his bachelor's degree in political science, Ishii married Lillian Horiuchi and the couple departed for Wyoming to escape Japanese internment camps.

He then enlisted and served with the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence in Asia and used his GI Bill to pursue a master's degree. He received his master's degree in political science from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1947. In 1950 he received a doctorate in international relations from Georgetown. He served as special assistant to the president of Georgetown until 1950, and then, after working with Asian countries with the State Department until 1965, he became political and economic affairs advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In 1971, Ishii was conferred by His Royal Highness the King of Malaysia, "The Order of the Royal Sword," for his work in Malaysia.

In 1973, Ishii returned to Saint Martin's to begin work as an associate professor of political science. As a professor, Ishii founded the Saint Martin's College International Relations Club, which promoted cultural awareness and served as a vehicle for students to share in various cultural activities. He was appointed vice president for academic affairs in 1979.

A year later he accepted the appointment as the first layperson to serve as president of the private, liberal arts college. The appointment also made him the first Asian American to preside over a Washington State college or university. During his tenure, a new computer lab that ranked third only to the labs at Harvard and Cornell was installed and the engineering department, summer course offerings and international marketing program were all expanded. During the five years he served as president new programs including graduate programs in education, engineering and psychology as well as The Pacific Rim Institute was also started. He retired in 1985, after which he was named president emeritus and served on the college's Board of Trustees. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995 and soon after was named trustee emeritus.

After retiring he served as consultant of the Pacific Rim Intercultural and Educational Programs and chairman of the Washington State Advisory Council on International Trade and Development. Other retirement activities included work on the Friends of Higher Education board, co-chairman of the Independent Colleges of Washington and work with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Secretary of State Ralph Munro also appointed him chairman of the Washington Commission of the Humanities. In addition, Ishii served on the board of directors for the Northwest Theological Union, Olympic Federal Savings and Loan Bank, Japanese American Citizens League, Governor's American Asian Affairs Commission, International Pacific Asian Consortium, YMCA's International Division and Olympia Symphony.

Ishii is survived by his wife Lillian, his daughter Patti and her husband, Jim Halbmier; his daughter Tobey and her husband, Bret Anderson; his daughter Addie and her husband Paul Magnant; his son Paul and his wife, Jane; his son John William and a growing number of grandchildren.

Donations in Ishii's name may be made to the Tiffin House, 812 Cowlitz Road, Centralia, WA 98531.

For more information:
Christina Ramírez-Milhoan, communications specialist
Office of Communication
360-438-4541 or cramirez@stmartin.edu