Chieko Okazaki (1926 – 2011)

Chieko Okazaki

Chieko Okazaki

What is the appropriate way to mourn the passing of an individual with such limitless optimism and cheer as Chieko Okazaki? How can our hearts not ache and rend at the loss of someone whose life deeply influenced so many? And yet, can a memorial full of anguish appropriately honor the one with the sunny spunk to tell us to Lighten Up?

For all her happiness, Sister Okazaki did not fear or deny difficult realities. She wrote candidly about the racism she sometimes experienced as an Asian woman living in Utah. In doing so, she broke a taboo against admitting such faults in our community. Even confronting us with the need to Lighten Up reflected her fearless incisiveness in self-examining our Utah LDS culture. She also addressed the topic of sexual abuse in her speech to victims, “Healing from Sexual Abuse.”

That she could do these things and only increase in esteem and affection in the hearts of so many members of the church is a testimony to her unmatched diplomacy and consistently healing touch. One message that her success conveys to me is that it is a cheap kind of fearlessness and truth-telling that merely screams every fault like so much spray of lead shot. Sister Okazaki’s courage was the courage to dedicate herself to the hard work of making broad and meaningful impact.

She fully lived the covenant to mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as a witness of God.

Chieko Nishimura Okazaki (October 21, 1926 – August 2, 2011)

First counselor to General Relief Society President Elaine Jack.

Mother of two sons.

Author and speaker. Books and speeches include: Cat’s Cradle, Aloha!, Lighten Up, Sanctuary, Being Enough, Disciples, Shared Motherhood, Stars, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and Healing from Sexual Abuse.


  1. She was such an inspiration to me as a new convert.

  2. A fitting tribute to an outstanding woman.

    sylvia is right, she was an inspiration.

  3. She is an enormous inspiration. Thank you for writing this up, Cynth.

  4. Every speech she gave, every story she wrote, she testified of Jesus. In a different church, she would have been a magnificent apostle. She was one of the church’s greatest assets.

  5. A lovely, lovely lady.

  6. Man, that makes me so sad. She was one of the reasons I came back to church in the early 90s–her realistic optimism, her acknowledgement that life is hard. She was such a big example to me.

  7. Mommie Dearest says:

    She was, and still is, an antidote for cynicism.

  8. lindberg says:

    I got to hear her first public address after her call to the RS general presidency. The BYU Japan Club had invited her to speak at a fireside Conference weekend, and she graciously accepted (before she knew about the call, of course). Despite the shock and weight of her new assignment, she followed through and spoke. It was a fabulous talk, full of her unique brand of humor, enthusiasm, Spirit, and testimony.

    She was easily my faviorite general church officer of the last three decades. I will miss her.


  9. I craved her honest candor and unyielding determination in life. She surely inspired me though some of my toughest moments, through her written words and spoken instruction. Funny that she could make you “remember who you are” just because you passed by her on the sidewalk. I want to have as tenacious a spirit as she chose to have. She will be missed!

  10. J. Daniel Rollins says:

    Sad to hear this. She inspired me so much when I met her a little over a year ago. She brought a uke on stage with her and performed “You Are My Sunshine”. Such a wonderful, beautiful, and spiritual woman. She’ll be missed.

  11. Researcher says:

    Thanks for the news. May I ask your source, since I don’t see anything in any of the Utah or LDS news sources?

    What an amazing woman! What an inspiration she has been to so many people. I have several of her talks in my files, and I don’t tend to keep church talks in my files. She had a beautiful way of saying things people needed to hear.

  12. I’m so sorry to hear that she passed away. She was an inspiration to so many of us!

  13. By the way, where did you hear this? I can’t find anything via Google.

  14. She was my visiting teacher, my friend, and a builder of my faith. Even at the end she stood tall and undaunted as a voice for all LDS men and women. I will miss her gracious fiery personality.

  15. I can verify her passing, as my father got a personal call from one of her sons. She was a wonderful family friend and will be greatly missed.

  16. I got to hometeach her with my father as a young teacher and priest. I always loved going over to her home. Felt like I got the teaching more often than not.

  17. I would like to be like her

  18. Angela H. says:

    Chieko Okazaki’s intelligence, charity, fearlessness, and clarity of vision has inspired me for so many years. I’m sure she will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life as I return to her writing. Thank you for this tribute.

  19. Her writing helped me feel that the church had a place for me. We’re poorer for her loss.

  20. Her writing helped me get through one of the worst times of my life. She will be missed.

  21. Fairchild says:

    It was a tradition that I would buy my mom her newest book whenever they came out and give them to her on the next gift-giving holiday. I will never forget her and her conference talks. She had a profound effect on both my mother and myself.

  22. Stunning. I last saw her at a funeral. I heard a voicemail she left for an office mate of mine, offering help. I suspect that much of her life was spent quietly caring for others. We know about her books, we remember her visual aids, but I’m guessing that her quiet charity was unheralded. I remember her speaking to the Genesis Group about the need for wells in a little place she had been devoting time and money to. She had a congregant go get her a glass of water from the drinking fountain, and then spoke eloquently about how difficult that simple request is in many places in Africa. I did not know her well at all, but I loved her.

  23. She gave a talk at a stake priesthood meeting I attended in NYC several years ago. She chastised the priesthood for ignoring the women of the church, and for using sexual propriety as an excuse to avoid them. She told us she had expressed concern to President Hinkley that the Proclamation on the Family did not do enough to validate single women in the church. I recall she seemed to be almost shaking in indignation as she chastised us for all the wrong we do women in the church. Her talk was long, and she left the visiting General Authority only a few minutes to try to salvage things. He tried desperately to reassure the priesthood: “The Lord loves you so much!”

    I’ll never forget how powerful she was! That was a real sermon! One of the most unforgettable church experiences of my life!

  24. Swisster says:

    Chieko was the real thing. Kigatsuku in the flesh. On the shelf, her books might look like the typical fare, but she was so innovative, brave, and eloquent. She could (and did) address any topic with wisdom. I could listen to her for hours.

  25. Her books and talk influenced me as a young wife and mother. I am a better woman, period, because of her.

  26. I admit having never heard her speak–and I’ve only briefly heard her name before. Are there any speeches or writings available online that BCC readers would recommend?

  27. I’m pleased with the expression of celebrating her life in this post and in the comments, but all I can say is that the news of Chieko Okazaki’s death makes me sad.

  28. I still remember the line from one of her conference talks, delivered with such passion, as she spoke of her life and how she’d been helped by a particular person in various occasions, including as her (Cheiko’s) husband was dying: “I needed to remember that Heavenly Father, fifty years earlier, had reached down and laid his hand on a skinny little Buddhist girl and said, “You are my beloved child.”” (Ensign May, 1993)

  29. My heart fell, and my wife almost cried, simply by reading the title of this post. We loved Sister Okazaki the first time we heard her speak.

    I believe Mormon’s words regarding Captain Moroni apply perfectly to Sister Okazaki. She is the type of woman I hope my daughters grow up to be.

  30. Marc Mason says:

    As our mission “mom” Sister Okazaki demonstrated the greatest care for all of her missionaries. From teaching us to eat mugi (cracked wheat), to looking our best as we went about our mission responsibilities, she was a great teacher. As she and President would descend on our apartments at 5:30am for surprise visits, her infectous smile was a great motivator, but with the understanding that she expected us to follow the mission rules. She dedicated her life to the gospel of Jesus Christ and helped hundreds of missionaries do the same thing. It was a tender mercy to have her and President be a part of my life.

  31. My grief and respect are shared with all.

  32. My heart is broken. Sister Okazaki inspired me more than any other female Church leader. I loved to hear her speak and to read what she wrote. She will be dearly missed.

  33. Carol Weaver says:

    One of her books gave me an answer I needed after so many years of searching. I feel very fottunate to have met her a few years back when she came to Georgia and spoke. What a fantastic woman.

  34. A friend in Baltimore was passing through a short bout of inactivity. During that time Sister Okazaki came to town to do some investigation into literacy programs and was accompanied by a General Relief Society board member who was the mother of my inactive friend’s roommate. I think it was a Sunday afternoon that Sister Okazaki spent some hours relaxing and visiting in their apartment. The inactive friend found this hilarious. “Now the General Relief Society Presidency is coming to check on me. As if I didn’t already feel guilty enough about skipping church.”

  35. Whizzbang from Winnipeg says:

    Very missed! She spoke here in Canada and talked about the Song of Solomon. I liked her quotation that Jesus knows about all afflictions even addiction, what it was like to be on a slave ship, etc.

  36. She is simply one of the best leaders/preachers our church has ever produced, period.

  37. Sister Okazaki proved, decade after decade, that with enough courage and diplomacy, one could be 100% authentic anywhere and everywhere.

  38. Sister Okazaki is Exhibit #1 for why females should be called as General Authoities for life too. It was a sad day when she was released, but maybe it freed up her time for other activities and let her influence spread beyond the Church. I cried when I heard the news yesterday, and I am crying again as I read this post and its comments..

  39. For anyone who works in Primary and feels inspired to honor Sister Okazaki in the coming weeks, I made up this Chieko Okazaki Sharing Time lesson. It could also work for FHE or in a class instead of Sharing Time. The topic is her talk about kigatsuku, or being aware of those around you and doing good without being asked.

  40. This is the first I’ve heard of her passing; thanks for honoring her here.

    I was lucky to hear her speak once at a small venue, and 10 years later still reflect on the things I heard her say that day.

  41. DLewis, has several of her talks archived. The links for Cat’s Cradle and Spit and Mud and Kigatsuku are in her classic style of taking simple, concrete examples from daily life and spinning them into relatable gospel messages.

  42. I am a new member. I had never heard of her until this post. After I read the post I went looking for more and found the Mud and Spit Kigatsuku article. I now have the book Lighten Up and will be reading that after babysitting is done.

    I just want to say thank you to the contributers here at BCC. I have learned so much, from Good talk v Bad talk from DC to spiritual leader’s books and talks to read, absorb and use in my life. Thanks.

  43. We were blessed to have her visit us in Tallahassee, FL in 1999. What a special woman! The stake RS presidency was hoping to schedule her for a day and were initially told she was booked up for the next few years. When someone discovered she had made it to AL on shorter notice due to the stake RS president there calling her directly, we decided to try that route after feeling strongly impressed our sisters needed her. We left a voicemail and in the meantime had to go ahead and pick a day to turn in for the printing of the stake calendar. We prayed, picked a date and left it with the Lord. She called back a week later after being out of the country. She was already scheduled to be in FL during that timeframe and the stake RS presidency in Ft. Myers were willing and gracious enough to share her with us! She came to us one late afternoon (shared her wisdom and experience with the Stake YW, Primary and RS presidencies that night), spoke to 3 stakes of RS sisters the next night, and flew out the next morning! We still call it our Sister Okazaki miracle! We all were blessed by her!

  44. I forgot to post the day she spoke to our stake was the exact date picked for the calendar!

  45. Wow – thanks. I was just thinking of her and found this thread. I re-read the articles. I’m going to send them to my girls. Thanks everyone for sharing. This thread uplifted me.

  46. My wife (and I) loved Sister Chieko Okazake. If this works (I’m not skilled at all in this), it’s Sister Okazake signing her book Aloha for my wife. It expresses our sentiments at this time.
    <img src="!/?cid=4e34be46b0cde0a5&sc=documents&uc=1&id=4E34BE46B0CDE0A5%21146!cid=4E34BE46B0CDE0A5&id=4E34BE46B0CDE0A5%21325&sc=documents&quot;

  47. Cynthia L. says:

    #47: What a treasure, reddy!

  48. @lindberg Your heartfelt tribute 岡崎姉妹、お疲れ様でした was so lovely. It made me cry.
    I felt I had a special relationship with her though I only knew her through her words. I could tell the difference she was making in my ward as members saw this Asian woman speak with grace, courage, honesty, and authority. She was able to skilfully tear down many barriers. She was a dynamite. We need more voices like hers.

  49. Wonderful, fantastic woman. She will be desperately missed. God bless her family at this time.

    The thing I very much appreciated about Sister Okazake was her thoughtfulness in carrying out inspiration. She was a driving force in the RS literacy efforts (of that era) and came to that very important work with the preparation of years of experience as a school teacher, principlal, M.Ed., and perhaps an Ed.D. or PhD. She was strategic in emagnifying her callings, not sporadic. Men and women engaged in gospel work have an excellent role model in Sister Okazake.

  50. I came across this quote today and want to share it here:

    “The truth is that you’re not odd—you’re special. When white light falls on a wall, it makes a white wall. But when it passes through a prism, that same light makes a rainbow on the wall…[Like God during creation, I’d like to say]”Let there be light.” All kinds of light! Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet light. We need our differences.”
    (Lighten up! page 17)

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