Our mother, Chizuko Murata Watkins (Obaachan), was born in Yokohama, Japan on August 27, 1928. She lived an amazing 92 years, even through the fight of her life after contracting lung disease at the age of 80. Her positive attitude and her sheer will to get better brought her through in ways no one imagined. Her life was full and fullfilled. She passed away on July 24, 2021. Her circle was wide as she touched many people, and she will be greatly missed. This obituary is but part of her story.
Chizuko grew up in Tsurumi, south of Tokyo, one of 10 children (5 boys and 5 girls) of Hitoshi and Seki Murata. In 1946 at the age of 18, a chance meeting and instant attraction to Clifford Watkins, whose army truck broke down near their family home in what was then a farm community, forged an unlikely union that, while romantic, would test the cultural norms. Two years later, against anything familiar or accepted at that time, Chizuko, having been promised to another at birth, not only married outside of the Japanese race but married an American soldier who was Black - the first Black man she’d ever seen. In 1952, with a two-year-old daughter in tow, not having any idea of what lay ahead, Chizuko set sail across the Pacific on what was, in retrospect, a bold and courageous journey toward hopes and dreams of life in the United States.
As she and Cliff settled in Massachusetts, Chizuko honed her skills as a mother. She gave birth to six more children and suffered the unthinkable heartache of losing one child, Constance, shortly after birth and another, Christopher, at age 10 in a tragic accident. All the while she worked two jobs outside the home. Chizuko was a natural leader - helping her Japanese war bride friends acclimate to their new found existence in a foreign country. She taught herself English, became a citizen and did everything she could to make sure that her children were educated, including converting to Catholicism as a means to a parochial education, which at the time was deemed the best.
She excelled at everything she did, always doing more than required, a trait she instilled in her children. She quickly learned that her half Black offspring were not always accepted as worthy by others, nor was she for that matter, but that would never be an excuse for under achieving. She would fight for them to be treated fairly in a world where, as she was often reminded, one’s value was marked by the color of your skin.
Chizuko was a stickler for timeliness and neatness. Respect and humility were key values that she lived by, and family meant everything to her. Though she was humble, she took great pride in her children and their accomplishments -- a pride that was multiplied through her 16 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren. She wore the title of Obaachan (grandmother) well and this would become her most prominent name by those inside and outside the family.
With her husband’s thirst for entrepreneurship, Chizuko found herself helping to run several businesses while simultaneously holding down two other jobs. She was either opening the gas station early in the morning or cooking and serving breakfast at their restaurant all before reporting to her first job as a factory supervisor. To make extra money, Chizuko was an early and very successful representative for Avon cosmetics, where she was always one of the top producers in the region. She could have invented the term ‘side gig’. When her marriage ended in 1982, Chizuko made another courageous decision, to relocate to the Bay Area. It was everything she wanted - a more open social setting where she could be closer to some of her children and a place that brought her closer to her Asian roots. She landed a job at Hewlett Packard where she thrived for 15 years. She then worked part-time for Sun Microsystems in its formative days. Seeing her talent, her ability with numbers and her boundless energy, a neighbor scooped her up to help run their drug store in Palo Alto. She enjoyed doing so until she finally really retired at age 70.
She made friends easily and knew how to ‘be’ a good friend. As a result, she had relationships far and wide across the globe. People relied on her. She was the organizer, the driver, the treasurer, the head chef, the confidante, the voice of reason and she always told the truth. She was open to new ideas and liked learning new things. She used Skype to communicate with her siblings before it was popular. At 90, when she decided it was time for her to stop driving, she learned how to use Uber - okay, so we would have the occasional driver show up accidentally, but so be it! Things she loved
Obaachan loved Family first and foremost. She loved spending time with her grandchildren and attending weddings, business dinners and banquets and political receptions (President Obama, Senator Booker, Senator Harris). She loved Dom Perignon and caviar; she loved cooking for people and was pretty famous for doing so -- her chicken salad and fried oysters were among the fan favorites and she even shared the recipe with a chosen few. She loved to travel and see other parts of the world. She was the ring leader in getting her Hewlett Packard colleagues to participate in the HP retirement trips and she even volunteered to serve as a guide on a couple of voyages to Japan. She LOVED Maui! She was known for being one of a few people to put 500 miles on a rental car while in Maui. She loved to explore and try new things. She loved singing karaoke, and dancing was an extra treat. She loved being on Tony’s (Carl) boat, going to Tahoe and the Indian casinos, playing the slots and Bingo. She loved to walk and would do so pretty much for two hours every day until the last year as dementia prevented her from doing so. And last, but not least, she loved her Buddhist faith and her membership with Seicho-No-le, her temple in San Jose. She studied its teachings fervently. Forgiveness was something she espoused and wanted to leave with us for further reflection.
As one friend recently said, “Chizuko was courageous and strong; yet gentle and loving. Her family is her legacy, and the things she taught people will help make the world a better place.”
Chizuko was well loved and is survived by her daughter, Caretha Coleman and her husband, Ken Coleman of Los Altos Hills, CA., her son, Clifford Watkins Jr., of Las Vegas, NV., her daughter, Cynthia Watkins of Henderson, NV., her daughter, Christine Richardson and her husband LeeRoy Richardson of Fremont, CA., and her son, Carl Watkins and his fiance, Angel Jenkins of Brentwood, CA., in addition to the aforementioned numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grand children; as well as her two remaining brothers ( Shinji and Kouzou Murata, and three sisters (Kikuko Takahashi, Kimiko Sekine, and Taeko Kanoh) all in Japan, and a number of nieces and nephews and extended family and friends.
Besides her parents and her two children (mentioned above) Chizuko is preceded in death by three brothers and one sister (Yoshikata, Hideo, Fumio and Yukiko Murata), and her granddaughters Karen Coleman and Naia Scott.
A memorial in celebration of her life will be held on Friday, August 27th at Sharon Heights Country Club, Menlo Park
In lieu of flowers, we invite you to make donations to one of the following organizations on her behalf
Seicho-No-le Northern California(her Buddhist temple)
777 N. 7th Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Tax ID is 51-0194738
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Interventional Pulmonary Research
795 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tax ID is 94-1156581