Lily Arikawa Okura, 86, co-founder and executive director of the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation Inc. and advocate for national mental health initiatives, died of congestive heart failure June 14 at her home in Bethesda.
From 1972 to 1982, she was director of personnel for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
She and her husband, K. Patrick Okura, founded the mental health foundation in 1988 to foster the training of future generations of Asian American mental health professionals. The foundation provides internships in Washington, helping young professionals better understand and appreciate the nexus between community mental health services and national health policy development.
To help fund the foundation, the couple used money received from President George H.W. Bush in 1990 as part of an apology for their internment during World War II. The Okuras were among 60,000 surviving Japanese Americans to each receive a $20,000 check and presidential apology under the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.
A recognized leader and activist in the Japanese community, Mrs. Okura was the first woman elected to the National Japanese American Citizens League National Board. She was one of the early Asian members of the Screen Actors Guild and an actress in numerous prewar movies, including "Oil for the Lamps of China" (1935).
A native of Santa Barbara, Calif., she grew up in Los Angeles. As a teenager, she was a Rose Parade princess in 1936 and 1939 and served on the coveted court of Nisei Week celebrations. She was an actress and a favorite model for the internationally acclaimed photographer Toyo Miyatake.
She was newly married at the outbreak of World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the relocation of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. She and her husband were sent to the Assembly Center on the grounds of the Santa Anita racetrack, and for nine months they lived in an 8-by-8-foot tack room in a horse stable.
Using her initiative, she made arrangements with the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, to relocate them to Omaha. While her husband worked as a staff psychologist for Boys Town, she was employed with several health agencies.
After a number of clerical and middle-management positions, Mrs. Okura was appointed administrator of the University of Nebraska Children's Therapy Center.
A community activist, she was named governor of the Mountain Plains District of the Japanese American Citizens League in 1964. She also was national vice president for the league.
After moving to the Washington area in 1971, Mrs. Okura served as editor of the league's Washington newsletter for more than two decades. She also was on the board of the league's Eastern District.
Mrs. Okura was a member of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, where she served as treasurer until her death. She was active in Altrusa International of Washington and had held major offices, including president. The group honored her in 1983 for her work with children with disabilities.
Mrs. Okura, who had a range of artistic accomplishments, taught classes in Kimekomi doll making and Oshie wall hanging.
Her husband of 63 years died in January.
There are no immediate survivors.