Chieko N. Okazaki, a former counselor in the general Relief Society presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last Monday of congestive heart failure. She was 84 years old.
Widely known and remembered by church members as an arresting speaker, a compelling writer who sold hundreds of thousands of books and a counselor to then-general Relief Society President Elaine L. Jack from 1990 to 1997, Sister Okazaki converted to the church from Buddhism at age 15. Born to Japanese parents in Hawaii in 1926, she became the first minority woman to serve on the church’s Young Women’s Board and the first to serve in an LDS general presidency.
Okazaki was one of the first speakers to address in a church setting the problem of sexual abuse and the challenge of balancing work and family; homosexuality; blended families; and coping with racism.
Typically bedecked in striking colors and often wearing a Hawaiian lei, she would call out to her all-female audience, “Aloha,” and thousands of women would answer back, “Aloha.” She even gave that unconventional greeting during LDS General Conference.
Her speeches were tightly woven masterpieces that she worked over for weeks and refined continuously.
Her positive messages of hope in Christ made her books and tapes of her talks into bestsellers and she was in demand as a speaker until last year, when she said at a February Time Out for Women event, “You are a treasure. And you have a treasure to give. Give liberally. Give abundantly. … Your greatest treasure is your testimony of Jesus Christ.”
With her light touch and subtle humor, she was able “to bring religion down to earth,” said Okazaki’s son Kenneth. “She inspired women to have a backbone.”
After her two sons were grown and her husband died in 1997, the gentle mother turned her nurturing attention outward to the world. She visited mobile homes and nursing homes; she spoke in tiny branches in Africa and large conferences in Australia; she found women who felt lost or alone. Her reach was global, even as her approach remained individual.
A number of Sister Okazaki’s addresses at the LDS General Conference can still be accessed at LDS.org.
Another personal remembrance is provided by Janet Peterson in a recent edition of Meridian Magazine.