SALT LAKE CITY — He was just 7 years old at the time, but the image remains frozen in his mind. His second-grade teacher, Chieko Okazaki, was standing at the front of the class, a bright flower tucked neatly in her dark hair. Her physical presence was, by any measure, diminutive. And yet she commanded the attention of the entire class with her powerful, penetrating gaze.
"She had the power of goodness far beyond her size or dimension," remembered Elder W. Craig Zwick, now a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I could feel that, even though I was seated on the back row, as usual, because of my last name. She was my schoolteacher, not my Primary teacher. But it became clear to me by watching her through the year that she knew the Savior. Her great wisdom and faith touched us all, because she not only taught it, she lived it."
Elder Zwick was one of six speakers who appreciatively and affectionately celebrated the life and faith of Sister Okazai Wednesday during funeral services for the beloved author, speaker and former counselor in the general Relief Society presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sister Okazaki died last week of congestive heart failure. She was 84 years old.
In addition to her service in the Relief Society and as a member of both the LDS Primary and Young Women general boards, Sister Okazaki was remembered during the services as a compassionate leader, a loving friend and a dear and devoted parent and grandparent.
"She embraced goodness in any shape or form," said long-time friend Carol Lee Hawkins. She spoke of frequent shopping trips with Sister Okazaki. As they shopped they would often become separated from each other. Inevitably, Hawkins said, she would find Sister Okazaki listening intently to a tearful stranger who was pouring her heart out to her.
"I always thought I was one of Chieko's closest friends," Hawkins said. "I learned that everyone was her friend … She shared her pain in life, and in so doing gave us permission to share our own."
The two women with whom Sister Okazaki served in the LDS general Relief Society presidency, Elaine Jack and Aileen Clyde, also spoke to the near-capacity congregation gathered at the Salt Lake Holladay South Stake Center for the funeral. Jack said that "the women of the world were her friends," and that "she will live on because of the profound effect she had on people throughout the world." Clyde remembered her capacity to recall her own life experiences and help her listeners and readers see their application to their own lives.
"She was not a preacher, but a doer of the word," Clyde said.
As influential as she was throughout the LDS community and beyond, however, Sister Okazaki was above all else a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter and friend.
"My Nana built millions of bridges for her sons and grandsons to span the tide of hardship in our loves," said Kenzo Okazaki, the eldest of her four grandsons. "Her eternal legacy to us will always be the bridges she built."
Kenzo remembered a day when his grandmother spent more than an hour trying to teach him how to do the "cat's cradle" string game that she once used in an LDS general conference address to illustrate the patterns and interconnectedness of our lives. "I had a hard time with it," Kenzo admitted. "I could never get it right. But during that whole hour, she never stopped smiling, never stopped encouraging me, never lost patience, never gave up. That's what I'll remember from that hour. She never gave up, and she never stopped smiling even though I still can't do cat's cradle."
Ninety-eight-year-old Florence Jacobsen, former Young Women general president and a neighbor to the Okazakis, had the vast congregation laughing when she explained that as she was getting up to speak a friend who was there helping her stepped on her skirt and pulled it down. "It's back up now," she said, still chuckling. "Chieko would have loved this!"
She urged those in attendance at the funeral to "go away remembering her, remembering her graciousness, remembering her example."
"We know there will be a great resurrection one day," Jacobsen said. "We will look forward to seeing her again then."3 comments on this story
Music for the service was provided by a choir of missionaries who served with Sister Okazaki when her late husband, Edward, presided over the Japan Okinawa Mission. The service ended with a moving performance of "Aloha'oe" by Kekau Arakaki and Kamana'o Arakaki.
As part of their observance of Sister Okazaki's funeral services, family members suggested that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Edward Yukio and Chieko Okazaki Room at the University of Utah's College of Social Work, 395 S. 1500 East #101, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, or online at tiny.utah.edu/okazaki.