Teruya ‘Terry’ Komoda Uyehara: 1937-2022

My grandmother Terry was unique, outgoing, and a flirt, right up to the end. Standing at just 4′10″, Teruya Komoda Uyehara packed a punch. When driving, she required two pillows just to reach the pedals! It was a sight to see her with her grandsons, Spencer at 6′4″, walking downtown, or Darren, holding her hand, saying, “I love you, Grandma.”

Teruya ‘Terry’ Komoda Uyehara | Credit: Courtesy Spencer Wass

When she stopped driving, Terry walked all over Santa Barbara, giving money to homeless people instead of buying things for herself. In fact, she always wanted to win the lottery and buy a house where she could live with all of her family.

Her grandsons loved introducing their grandmother to new people and found it even more fun to hear about someone meeting her organically — “Your grandma is the little Japanese lady with the thick flip-flops?”

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Terry was the youngest of eight children, growing up during a time of warfare and privation but nonetheless developing her unique personality. Among the memorable events she sometimes talked about was witnessing the flash of the Nagasaki nuclear bomb at just 8 years old.

On that Thursday morning, Terry had been sheltering with her family in an underground bunker. She ran out at one point, and her mother ran after her, and they were both aboveground just as the “Fat Man” bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, about 60 miles away, on August 9, 1945. This second atomic bomb ended the war for Japan — the first had been dropped on Hiroshima four days earlier. At the time the surrender was announced on August 15, her brother was on a runway, about to take off on a desperate kamikaze run. He didn’t meet death that day, but he was forever torn by having survived.

In 1954, Terry met and married an American, David Wass, who was living in Japan after his service in Korea with the U.S. Army. Mixed marriages were not accepted in Japan at the time; nevertheless, David and Terry, as she became known, had two children: Spencer Kuniki Wass, born in Fukuoka, and Gina Kimika Wass, born in Kyoto.

In 1958, the family moved to Santa Barbara for a fresh start. Terry had difficulty adapting with her beginning English skills and no Japanese community around her. They decided to speak only English at home to accelerate her learning. She was so proud when she became a U.S. citizen, as citizenship largely depends on a mastery of English. During this time, she taught ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, something she had grown up loving in Japan.

Terry and David divorced in 1966. She met her second husband, Teruyo Uyehara, a famous Japanese artist, and moved to Tokyo. There she became a successful English teacher, instructing Japanese tourists heading to America.

“The End Day” by Teruya ‘Terry’ Komoda Uyehara | Credit: Courtesy Spencer Wass

She eventually divorced Teruyo in the early ’80s and moved back to Santa Barbara alone. Having endured many illnesses herself, Terry became a certified nursing assistant (CNA). She took on the challenging yet rewarding position of sole caregiver at an assisted living house of six residents. She believed in the importance of healthy food and bought her residents fresh vegetables, rather than serve frozen or canned. She also gave them daily massages. She also worked as a live-in caregiver in private residences.

When she was in her forties, Terry decided to pursue her love of art, taking classes at Santa Barbara Community College. She started entering her work in contests, winning an unprecedented 18 juror’s choice awards and taking first place in the coveted Tri-County award. Each piece of art focused on a different theme using a variety of materials.

For the last six years of her life, Terry resided happily at Mission Terrace in Santa Barbara, where she had also worked as a CNA. She died peacefully in her sleep on January 6, 2022.

Our grandmother Terry made impeccable sushi, traveling to Los Angeles to find the best ingredients. Everything had to be perfect, and boy, was it! She was an impressive bowler and ping-pong player, and she would always order dessert before the meal at restaurants. She wanted to make sure she had room for the good stuff. 

She was one of a kind, no one like her.

Miss you, Mo.

Terry Uyehara is survived by her children, Gina Kimika and Spencer Kuniki; two grandsons, Darren Joseph Kuniki, and Spencer David Wass; and two great-grandchildren. No service has been scheduled yet due to the pandemic. Please email terrystory47@gmail.com if you have any stories to share about Terry.


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