LOS ANGELES, CA.-
The Board of Trustees and Board of Governors for the Japanese American National Museum
expressed their sadness at the passing of Siegfried "Sig" Kagawa, who provided major leadership and support when the National Museum was being formed in the 1980s and 1990s, and who contributed to many important causes in his native Hawai`i and nationally.
Kagawa, the son of life insurance pioneer Lawrence "L.T." Kagawa, continued the family tradition of providing access to affordable insurance to everyone, regardless of race. L.T. Kagawa was the first who sold insurance in Hawai`i from Transamerica Life Companies with equal premiums for everyone. Previously, life insurance was often sold at higher rates for people of color and the types of insurance available were restricted. L.T. Kagawa also reached out to Japan in the postwar era and made insurance available to Americans living in Japan.
Sig Kagawa followed in his father’s footsteps, expanding the family’s insurance business and contributing to humanitarian and social causes both locally and nationally. When the Japanese American National Museum was incorporated in 1985, it had no endowment nor staff and only one full-time employee. Kagawa co-chaired the national campaign to fund the renovation of a former Buddhist temple in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The Phase I campaign eventually raised over $13 million and the National Museum opened in 1992.
"Sig Kagawa was vital to the Japanese American National Museum during its formative stage," reflected Ernest Doizaki, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum. "He provided strong leadership and a clear vision on how to get more people involved with our Museum nationally. Our condolences go out to his family and to Transamerica Occidental. His contributions to our institution and our country will not be forgotten."
The Kagawa family was also important to the National Museum’s Phase II campaign, geared toward the construction of a modern facility to house its growing collection and expanded space for exhibitions. Sig’s uncle Yoshinobu Kagawa was legal counsel to Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, co-founders of the Sony Corporation. Morita was introduced to the National Museum and saw it as a bridge between the United States and Japan. He organized a campaign with Japan’s Keidanren, then a federation of the largest Japanese companies and corporations. The Keidanren raised almost $10 million to help build the National Museum’s Pavilion, which opened in 1999.
Professionally, Sig was recognized for his service as President of Hawaii State Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Life Insurance Master Agency Builder Awards, and Hawaii Insurance Professional of the Year. His personal and general agency production achievements earned him highest honors and year-end rankings with the agency's primary carrier, Transamerica, who recognized him as a "Legend of Transamerica," an honor bestowed upon only a handful of the greatest contributors over the history of the company.
Sig’s community service included becoming the first Asian American chair of the Bishop Museum, the institution dedicated to Hawai`i’s history and culture, and helping it to reach a stronger financial position. He was the first Asian American to serve on the National Board of the Boy Scouts of America and received the Silver Buffalo Award for his contributions. He and his wife Betsy formed the Sig and Betsy Kagawa Foundation to support worthwhile causes.
The family business continues with Sig’s son Gordon, who now runs Occidental Underwriters, and with daughter Kathy and Stephen, a Yonsei, who founded and is President of the Pacific Bridges Companies. Stephen serves on the National Museum’s Board of Trustees and, like his father, contributes his time and resources to many important causes, including the American Cancer Society, the Boy Scouts of America and the Go For Broke National Education Center.
Sig Kagawa passed away on January 3, 2009. He was 77. One of six children, he had five sisters. He leaves his wife Betsy and three children. Said his brother-in-law, William Ouchi, "While we mourn his passing, we continue to be inspired by the size of his dreams, the strength with which he carried out his convictions, by his wisdom about the realities of life, and by his great humility in all things."
Plans for memorial services are pending.