Tom Teranishi was a remarkable man. Amazing, compassionate, dedicated, committed, wise, stoic, positive – there are many adjectives that could be used to describe Tom as a person, and they would all be true. Beset by major physical challenges, his overwhelming concern was other people. He would always ask about others, but I don’t think I ever heard him lament or complain about himself. By his own behaviour, Tom Teranishi set an example for all of us who wish to live in a civilized society.
Professionally, Tom was a social worker at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, and the Vancouver General Hospital. His knowledge of the needs of people, and of the health care system, enabled him to assist people with needs to access appropriate health care resources. But he didn’t restrict his knowledge to his professional life. He shared it with the wider community with a commitment to a number of Societies when he volunteered and served on their governing boards.
One particular board was the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society, on which he served from 1984. When a call was sent out to the Japanese Canadian community, for interested individuals to come together to work on addressing the health care needs of Japanese Canadian seniors, Tom Teranishi was one of the first to step forward. For 39 years Tom spent countless hours and days assisting the Society advocate and care for seniors in our community. In the early days of the Society, he was a regular at the Powell Street Festival, the Salmon Festival, and at special events at Buddhist Temples, United Churches, Anglican Churches promoting the goals of the Society. Whenever there was an opportunity to talk to a group of people about the needs of Japanese Canadian Seniors – particularly their need for residential care in a culturally sensitive environment — Tom was there, both in-person, and via his contributions to newsletters.
Tom served as an important link to the Steveston community, helping in the development of surveys sent to Japanese Canadian seniors regarding their health care needs, and the assistance they would like to see developed. He was always advocating for the needs of seniors. For many years Tom served as the Publicity Chairperson for Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society. This was a major role, keeping the work of Nikkei Seniors in the forefront of the Japanese Canadian community, and would have been a significant challenge for a person without Tom’s personal health challenges. He would search out individuals to write articles, co-ordinate the translation of the articles, and ensure that the articles were submitted to the Bulletin in a timely manner. When he was unable to find individuals to contribute articles, he would write articles himself regarding health care topics, such as the prevention of seasonal allergies, community health care resources, and much more. This was a daunting task, a task that he undertook with professionalism, and a commitment that showed how much he cared for others.
Tom, himself, never dwelt on his many physical challenges. So, in his honour, I will not do so either. Suffice to say that they were significant, and on-going. He was an amazing man, who always came back from the serious health care issues he encountered; and for this he was given the “Courage to Comeback” award in 2016 for his resilience and ability to face diversity with courage and optimism.
Tom Teranishi touched many lives in a positive way, through his professional work, his volunteer activities, and through his ability to look at life in an optimistic way. He was always authentic, a genuine, honest, person, who needed his passing to bring his contributions to an end. His leaves a legacy that will be hard to replicate, and will remembered for a long time.
Submitted by Ruth Coles, Past President, Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society