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Friday, March 7, 2014

THE REMARKABLE MOMOKO ITO


Every so often I write about extraordinary people I've met.  Momoko Ito was a remarkable individual who looked like a Japanese movie star, had an incredible ability to read people, but perhaps exhibited certain Dragon Lady traits.  I had a quarter century "professional" relationship with her, and remember her well.  She married Masat (he must have dropped the "o") Izu, who obtained his PhD in engineering from Kyoto University, and they had two children, Joichi and Mizuko.  

They came to the U.S.in 1971 to work for ECD in Michigan, he as a solar photovoltaics researcher, and she became Stanford Ovshinsky's secretary.  That's Stan on the left in the above photo, taken probably forty years ago, and more recently to the right.  She managed to keep in the background, so this is the only shot of her I could find.  She did, however, later become president of Energy Conversion Devices Japan.

When I was working for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga in DC, around circa 1980, she suddenly showed up in my office.  I believe this was the period when she divorced her husband, and her children apparently took on her name.  Here to the left a photo of Joi around that time, my last recollection of what he looked like.  Click on "Dairy of my mother and the New Year" an excerpt from her diary a year before she passed away.

Joi (now to the right) was mentored by Ovshinsky, who, like Stan and Bill Gates never bothered to get a college degree.  Ovshinsky (he will someday also be an extraordinary person at this site) is credited with 1200 patents and his technology is used for batteries, solar photovoltaics, rewritable CD/s, DVD optical disks, hydrogen fuel cells and a host of other systems you use today.  I recall Joi being involved with originally developing the blog (weblog), becoming a venture capitalist and angel investor, and read where he now is director of the MIT Media Lab, although I think he somehow lives in Dubai.

Maybe the highlight of this posting is an evening I had with Mizuko, or Mimi.  I remember when first meeting her if, instead of Mizuko she preferred to be called Mimiko because her mother was Momoko.  Anyway, I dropped by their home in Tokyo sometime in the mid 80's to take Momoko out for dinner.  Well, she had caught the flu so suggested that Mimi be my date.  The circumstances were such that I could only agree, although she was only a junior in high school.  The night remains fuzzy in my brain, but after dinner she suggested we have a drink in Roppongi.  We went to several nightclubs and they all knew her very well.  And she wasn't exactly drinking Shirley Temples.

Mimi went on to Harvard to study under family friend, Edward Reischauer, who was born in Tokyo and was the U.S. Ambassador to Japan in the 60's.  She then went on to Stanford for a PhD in education.  Dr. Ito (married to Scott Fisher) is now the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California at Irvine.

So continuing the story (you can read the details here), Momoko, who was then vice-president of ECD, invited me to have breakfast in Honolulu with Edward Teller.  Apparently, as they knew I had worked for him at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, they must have thought I could influence him to join the board of ECD.  I remember this scene well, for it was at the Hyatt Waikiki and she came to breakfast wearing a tight black gown with jewels.  I wish I had this photo of her with Teller.

She was in her prime when she passed away of cancer in 1995.  I today wonder what we could have accomplished if she were still active.  Her children manage the Momoko Ito Foundation.

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