skip to main content
caption: Tomoko Hayes
Enlarge Icon
Tomoko Hayes
Credit: Courtesy of Bob Hayes

Tomoko Hayes, 96, immigrant from Japan, raised 4 children in a new country

Our series, Lives Lost, remembers loved ones who have died in the pandemic. You can share an obituary of someone special to you by filling out the form at the bottom of this story.

Tomoko Hayes was born in 1924, in Sendai, Japan. She met her husband who was in the U.S. Army and stationed in the country. Her son Bob Hayes said the first time she moved to the U.S. was when they moved to Chicago. But her husband left soon for work.

“My mom was probably in her mid-30s, with a newborn. She couldn’t speak English,” said Bob. But she was resourceful and managed somehow to navigate her new home. “If that was me, plopped somewhere in Japan, because I don’t speak Japanese, I’d probably call home or something,” said Bob. “She’s an incredible lady.”

One of his fondest memories is from when he was little, and he’d wake up early in the morning just to hang out with her.

“I’m just standing next to her with my elbows on the counter, just watching her cook,” he said. He doesn’t remember what they talked about; it didn’t matter. “That was just me and her. Everybody else was asleep, and we were just kind of doing our thing.”

caption: Bob Hayes's portrait of his mom using words that family members used to describe her.
Enlarge Icon
Bob Hayes's portrait of his mom using words that family members used to describe her.
Credit: Courtesy of Bob Hayes

Tomoko loved to paint, and was self-taught. But as she got older, she developed dementia. She stopped painting.

After Tomoko passed away last April, Bob honored his mom through art. Since the family can’t gather during the pandemic, he asked his family for the top three words to describe her. “I do surveys for a living,” he explained. Using their responses, he created a portrait of Tomoko.

“The top words were funny, love, caring, cute, and sweet,” he said.

Producer Alec Cowan composed music for this story.

If you've lost someone in Washington through Covid, we invite you to tell us about them--their story, their passions, and your memories of them.