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Originally published November 15, 2012 at 9:46 PM | Page modified November 16, 2012 at 7:41 AM

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Obituary: Calvin 'Cal' Uomoto did it all for refugees

Calvin "Cal" Uomoto, former executive director for World Relief Seattle, died Oct. 26. He was 63.

Seattle Times staff reporter

In the 23 years he worked as executive director for World Relief Seattle, Calvin "Cal" Uomoto was known to take work home.

Not a briefcase full of paper, mind you, but newly arriving refugees — often extended families with lots of children and uncles and aunts — who shared space in the living room of his Beacon Hill home, for stints that could last weeks or months.

Such charity is something Mr. Uomoto recruited volunteers for, but didn't hesitate to do himself — eventually converting his garage to accommodate his guests.

"My dad was a generous and kind man and from him we learned how to be compassionate. ... " Titus Uomoto, the oldest of Mr. Uomoto's four sons, said. "He opened our home to people who had nothing, who were coming from war-stricken countries or from refugee camps where they'd lived for 10, 15 years. From those experiences, we gained a world perspective."

Mr. Uomoto, who was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, died Oct. 26. He was 63.

Those who knew him describe a man with a deep connection to his Christian faith, and who devoted his adult life to steadfastly serving those less fortunate.

Born in Seattle, he spent his childhood in Japan, where his parents went to serve as missionaries after leaving internment camps for Japanese.

He graduated from Watson Groen Christian School (now Shoreline Christian School), and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in public administration from the University of Washington.

In a statement on the organization's website, Stephen Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief, called him "an inspiration to all of us and a hero within his community."

Mr. Uomoto's longtime friend, Tom Lane, said "there are a million stories" in testament to the work Mr. Uomoto did on behalf of newly arriving refugees. "He taught people to drive. They'd come to him to help find places to garden, to find jobs, to address traffic tickets — so many things that are part of making a new country their home," Lane said. "Cal was a tremendous guide and teacher."

In the early 1980s, Mr. Uomoto helped to establish, and for a time directed, the Indochinese Farm Project, a 22-acre plot between Redmond and Woodinville where Southeast Asians still grow the vegetables and flowers they sell at places like Pike Place Market.

He also helped Mien refugees establish the Mien Evangelical Church in Tukwila, which today boasts more than 100 members.

In recent years, under his leadership, World Relief implemented a ministry for detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

Bob Johnson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee, a refugee-resettlement agency, said, "Cal was very religious — and he practiced what he preached. He felt a commitment to refugees and other immigrants that went way beyond his professional relationship."

Leanne Leigh, chief of staff for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Seattle, said she got to know Mr. Uomoto through his work on a committee that serves as a liaison between the government and community groups that serve refugees.

"He had a gentle nature and was highly respected," Leigh said. "He commanded attention and often brought forth things that he saw as important for the community at large."

Greg Hope, director of the refugee resettlement office of the Episcopal Migration Ministries in Seattle, said he worked in partnership with Mr. Uomoto to set up contracts for refugees to find work and learn English.

"Cal was not a showboat type person," he said. "If you knew him, you knew he had integrity."

Even in the final weeks of his life, his son said, Mr. Uomoto was working on behalf of the people he served — traveling from his home on Beacon Hill to his office in Kent. "He was a workaholic," Titus Uomoto said. "To his dying day he was doing something related to the work he loved."

Mr. Uomoto is survived by his wife, Ann Uomoto; three other sons, Timothy, Jordan, and Brendan Uomoto, and his mother, Fumiko Uomoto, all of the Seattle area, and nine siblings.

A memorial service in his honor is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Seattle, 1013 8th Ave., in Seattle.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to World Relief with a note specifying that funds be directed to the detention ministry. Online donations may be made at: https://worldrelief.org/seattle/donate with "Cal Uomoto" or "Detention Ministry" in the comments field.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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