Notes from USJC President & CEO Suzanne Basalla: Remembering Irene Hirano Inouye

This is a series in which USJC President & CEO Suzanne Basalla shares her thoughts directly with the USJC community.

This week marks one year since the devastating loss of our founder, Irene. 

One of the privileges of serving as her successor at the helm of the U.S.-Japan Council is that I am surrounded by her presence in so many ways every day.  Most people I meet with share their memories of Irene with me, and we reflect together on her legacy. More recently, as I am partnering with Irene’s family and close friends to arrange “Remembering Irene: A Memorial Tribute,” I am immersed in stories, photos, and reflections. This inevitably brings the full range of emotions of loss. But mostly it leaves me with gratitude for having had Irene in my life and for the opportunity to build on her legacy.

There is still so much work to be done in the traditional areas of USJC’s activities to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations through people-to-people relations. The Council itself is a testament to Irene’s belief that by providing a platform for Japanese American leaders to contribute, they can impact government policy, business decisions and civil society activities by providing expertise and recommendations to counterparts in the United States and Japan. Whether that’s addressing global climate change, creating new business opportunities, empowering youth, advancing women leaders, or addressing the rise in anti-Asian discrimination and violence and the systemic racism against marginalized communities, there is a growing urgency to continue this work in Irene’s memory. 

Though Irene’s loss is still keenly felt by all who knew her, the anniversary of her passing is also an opportunity to recommit to achieving the better world that Irene imagined and helped to realize.