Ted Tajima passed away a week ago – his memory will live on with me and countless other student members of the weekly high school newspaper production class he taught for 35 years – definitely an icon in his own right.
Known as Mr. “T” by his journalism students, he led them and the Alhambra High School “Moor” to state and national honors with him being named high school journalism teacher of the year during his tenure by the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association.
The Moor had been awarded more than 25 All-American awards that were presented by the National Scholastic Press Association that also named the student paper as one of the six best student newspaper publications in the country in n the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“T” was 88 years old, but he was able to remain quite alert and young at heart. And, while he had retired from teaching in the mid-80s , he continued to edit and publish an outstanding weekly bulletin for his church community in Altadena.
Mr. Tajima was able to teach ethics in life and in journalism by his very example to students in his multiple periods each day in the basement newsroom. He stressed that a newspaper must be part of the community it serves and set the standards in life. He urged fairness and accuracy as being central to proper journalistic standards. It was in 1953 that I had the good fortune to be on the staff of his paper serving as its photographer for three years.
In the years that followed, when I served on several papers as a writer and editor up until the present time, it has been evident that the passion and love for writing in my heart came almost solely from the impression he made on me during those high school years putting the paper to bed at the print shop each weekend.
T” taught journalism from the frame of his being – from his heart and from his soul and would hold the feet of his students to the proverbial fire for their use of improper words or phrases. He was there to teach – he knew it – and he delivered with the depth and sincerity of his voice in true baritone.
It was only a couple of weeks ago, while talking to him over the telephone, that he gave me some of his sage, off-the-cuff advice that I will never forget as long as I live. He made his mark on all of us as teens as well as later in our professional careers.
Just last year a former Moor editor, Carol Hoge now of Lincoln, and I drove over to Palo Alto to take our teacher to lunch while he was up north visiting a daughter. What a positive experience that was for both of us. He was the same – nothing had changed.
God bless you Mr. Tajima – your memory is priceless.
“T” died on February 20 in the Southern California home of one of his daughters in Altadena, having suffered from emphysema, even though he had quit smoking many years ago.
Back in his early 20s he had been drafted into the U.S. Army and taught Japanese to government counter-intelligence agents – and some English language grammar to boot.
After graduating from college, shortly after the end of World War II, this man of Japanese ancestry was unable to land a job with any newspaper, because of the color of his skin and the slant of his eyes. The anti-Japanese prejudice was rampant even though he had been born in this country – he was an American citizen without the respect of many of his countrymen.
He had listened to his wife and sought out a teaching position, which he quickly learned to treasure with the response of his students in the Alhambra – a suburb of Los Angels, some 12 miles to the northeast.
“T” was born in Salt Lake City and was one of five children – his mother a teacher and his father a Christian minister.
Among his former students include the producer of the documentary, “Scared Straight,” Arnold Shapiro, and a U.C. Journalism professor who graduated two years after my graduation from Alhambra High in 1955.
A very solemn moment that etched a spot on my psyche was when I was notified on line Sunday afternoon that Mr. “T” had passed away.
His is a difficult act to follow in life and I clearly don’t measure up to his expectations, but I will only continue to try and know the spirit of his proof reading prowess is watching over my shoulder from on high.
Glenn Kahl, 2-28-11