Jori “Jerry” Kaneko, who served the country that interned his family during World War II, then secured a place in veterinary medicine and later earned a seat on the Davis City Council, died last week. He was 88.
Kaneko suffered a massive stroke while in Berkeley on Jan. 12. He died Friday at the California Pacific Medical Center Davies Campus in San Francisco.
In 1994, Kaneko retired after more than 38 years in the School of Veterinary Medicine. He then turned his seemingly boundless energy toward Democratic politics and a dizzying array of local boards and organizations spanning service, land and water, health care and more.
“My recollection of Jerry is he always had a smile on his face, a kind word for everyone, and could slap my back harder than anyone I knew,” said Yolo Superior Court Judge Dave Rosenberg, who served with Kaneko on the City Council. Both were also members of the Odd Fellows Lodge.
While on the council, Kaneko earned a reputation for being “contemplative,” rarely tipping his hand on how he planned to vote on an issue before him.
“He would think things through,” Rosenberg said. “When other council members took positions, he held back.”
Kaneko supported the building of the Davis Commons shopping center at First and E streets, and he was the swing vote on the 3-2 decision to widen the Richards Boulevard tunnel from two to four lanes in 1996, though that was later overturned by a referendum vote.
During a discussion about widening the Mace Boulevard overpass, Kaneko blasted the plan as a “monstrosity,” sending Caltrans back to the drawing board.
He also served as the council’s liaison to the Human Relations Commission and Senior Citizens Commission.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who also served on the council with Kaneko, called him “a very decent man.”
“He was generous, he was very upbeat and positive and very committed to this community, both at the university and at the city,” she said. “(He) was also so multifaceted; he had so many things going, he was so involved. Whatever he did, he went at it 100 percent.”
In 2004, the city presented Kaneko with a lifetime achievement award.
Kaneko earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, his doctor of veterinary medicine degree and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry all from UCD, the last of these in 1959. He rose from lecturer to full professor, then served as chairman of the department of clinical pathology for 17 years.
He is best known for co-editing the textbook “Clinical Biochemistry of Domestic Animals.” Now in its sixth edition, it’s seen as the standard in the field, said Sean Owens, an assistant professor of clinical pathology.
“He was one of the first people in veterinary medicine in the United States to bring it to a level of sophistication that was mirroring what was going on in human medicine,” said Owens, who was the first recipient of the $10,000 Kaneko Career Development Award. “He was a scholar, he was a gentleman, he was a nice guy — he was just a classy individual.”
Owens said that when he arrived at UCD, he wore a gold earring. Some of his colleagues teased him about that.
“There’s nothing wrong with an earring,” Kaneko said one day, riding to the rescue.
Kaneko would know: He always wore a diamond stud of his own.
Born in Stockton to immigrant parents on Nov. 20, 1924, and raised on a small farm in French Camp, Kaneko, his three brothers, one sister and their parents were interned with other Japanese families on the Gila Indian Reservation in Arizona when war broke out with Japan.
Kaneko later went to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he worked as a houseboy at a hotel before joining the U.S. Army. He was among the occupying forces in Japan near the end of the war — one of several thousand Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans, who served during the war.
If Kaneko had difficulty reconciling serving his country after it placed his family in an internment camp, he didn’t say so, his son Jim said.
“A lot of people in his generation didn’t express a lot of anger and that kind of thing,” said Jim, who spoke Saturday of his father’s commitment to his friends, family and the community. “It was just a matter of acceptance of his situation. He never expressed real anger. I think there was some disappointment and sadness.”
Kaneko’s first wife, Frances, died of cancer in 1974. He remarried in 1990, to his wife Teresa, an educator in the UC Davis Presents program whom he first met formally at a fundraiser for Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif.
“When I first encountered him, he just seemed so friendly and outgoing,” she said. “He was a guy who would do anything for anybody. If you needed something, he was there for you. He was there for me, a lot.”
Kaneko is also survived by his children, stepchildren and their spouses, Taro Kaneko and Bobbi Kaneko of Fairfield, John and Lorraine Kaneko of Kaneohe, Hawaii, Jim and Kathleen Kaneko of Davis, Richard Bynum and Jennifer Stevenson, of Evanston, Ill., and Louisa Bynum and Don Guralnick of Berkeley, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Like Jerry, Jim, Louisa and John are veterinarians.
— Enterprise staff writers Lauren Keene and Tom Sakash contributed to this story. Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden