Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch Statement on the Death of Irene Hirano Inouye

April 9, 2020
News Release

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I join the Smithsonian community in mourning the loss of one of our friends and supporters, Irene Hirano Inouye. As the Advisory Board Chair of our Asian Pacific American Center and a long-time member of the National Museum of American History’s Advisory Board and the Smithsonian National Board, she had a tremendous influence on helping us become a more inclusive Institution able to tell a more robust American story.

I first came to know Irene in the 1980s in Los Angeles when I was a curator at the California African American Museum and she was getting the Japanese American National Museum off the ground as its founding CEO and President. I got to see her tenacity and skill up close, and the example she set was invaluable for me years later as I worked to make the National Museum of African American History and Culture a reality.

Most recently, Irene and I served on the American Alliance of Museum’s task force to diversify museum boards and build inclusive museum cultures. She knew that only by including all voices can museums reach their potential as places that examine the truth, foster important dialogue, and inspire the nation to live up to its ideals.

Those of us who knew and worked with Irene are indebted to her years of service and wisdom. So many of us benefited immeasurably from her warmth and wise counsel. Like that of her husband, the late Senator Daniel Inouye, Irene’s legacy to the nation will live on. We send her family our thoughts and condolences.

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