Suggested headline: ‘The kindest man I’ve ever known’
The first time I saw Terry Shibata, he was smiling happily while flagrantly violating a no-parking zone at the ferry dock in Seattle.
He was impossible to miss, wildly waving his hands at us while my wife, one of our daughters and I disembarked. It was worth it to him to risk a pricey parking ticket to make sure we spotted him.
There are people you don’t have to know long or well for them to affect you deeply. Terry was one of them. When word came that he died last month at 86, we felt as if we’d lost an inspiration, a model for how life should be lived.
He and I and a friend in St. Louis were the contemporary equivalent of pen pals. Terry and Bob Hagar, my St. Louis friend, met on a group tour and began exchanging emails. That led to the three of us exchanging emails, and a long-distance friendship was formed.
The reason he was waiting at the dock in Seattle that day was that he knew we’d be in the area and had offered to take us to a Seattle Mariners game. We tried to pay him back for the tickets he’d purchased, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
At the game, featuring the woeful Mariners against the even more woeful Baltimore Orioles, he surprised us by pulling Costco hot dogs out of his jacket pockets and offering one to each of us. Then he announced his intention to go the concession stand to buy us insanely expensive cups of beer.
“Let me get them,” I said. “I’ll come with you.”
“No, no, no. You stay here and enjoy your hot dogs. I’ll be right back with the beer.”
After the game, he took us to one of his favorite restaurants. Despite repeated offers, he wouldn’t let us pay for dinner. Only when it became clear that allowing us to pick up the tab would have ruined his evening did we acquiesce. He reluctantly let us pay the tip.
A resident of Everett, Wash., and an avid fan of the Mariners, the Seattle Seahawks and the University of Washington Huskies, he loved buying their team gear for people, whether or not they were fans.
“He was most generous,” Hagar said. “He sent us Washington Huskies caps, Seahawk blankets, University of Washington sweatshirts …”
A Huskies cap is lurking in my closet as well. He sent it to me as a good-natured joke a few days before Washington played Boise State in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl.
And never said an unkind word about the Huskies embarrassing the Broncos.
Two years ago, we all met at the Hagars’ home near St. Louis. Terry insisted on sleeping on a couch so my wife and I could have the guest room. We went to places that required a lot of walking, which was difficult for him because of a back injury. He painfully shuffled to museums, the top of the St. Louis Arch and a Cardinals game, never once complaining.
“He’d been taking steroid shots for his back for more than 20 years,” Toni Mullins, one of his daughters, told me. “The doctor told him he needed an operation, but he kept getting the shots instead. He didn’t want to let an operation interfere with his travels.”
Asked how many countries he’d visited, he said it would be easier to count the ones he hadn’t visited. He traveled with his wife until her death in 2009, then on his own. He went to Antarctica – alone – in his early 80s.
In his 86 years, he worked on a fishing boat, in a cannery, pounded rivets into Boeing airplanes and worked his way up at a succession of supermarkets, eventually opening his own – Terry’s Thriftway, in Everett.
He took his dog to church with him on Sundays. The dog happily attended the service along with the rest of the congregation. Later he got a cat named Oreo and took her to church. Oreo had to wait in the car.
She “shredded his upholstery,” Mullins said. “He never got mad at her, though. … Oreo was definitely spoiled. He fed her raw tuna. He had a freezer full of it for her.”
Her father was among the few remaining survivors of the Minidoka Internment Camp, northeast of Twin Falls. It was one of ten camps created after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entering World War II. Fearing that people of Japanese ancestry would side with Japan in the war, the government ordered those living on the West Coast to leave their homes and report to the camps. More than 9,000 were sent to Minidoka.
It was a shameful chapter in our history. Virtually all of those sent to the camps, including the Shibata family, were loyal U.S. citizens. While they were interned at Minidoka, their business, a Seattle bakery, was taken from them. A child at the time, Terry Shibata was too young to understand fully all that happened. He told me once that what he remembered most about Minidoka was playing baseball with the other children.
“He was nine years old,” Mulllins said. “He could tell that something about it wasn’t right, but he made it fun for himself.”
She remembers her father as “always happy and joking.”
His nickname: Hap. Shortened from Happy.
I knew him for only a few years. The total time we spent together can be measured in days rather than months or weeks. I didn’t even know his nickname until Mullins told me about it.
He didn’t need a lot of time, though, to make an indelible impression. His passing affected me as much as if he’d been part of my life much longer. He may have been the kindest man I’ve ever known.
My daughter who went to the Mariners game with us and spent no more than six or seven hours with him in her life had the same reaction.
“Of all the people I’ve ever known,” she said, “Terry is the one I’d most like to be like.”