On the wall of Room 225 at Alhambra High School, there is a plaque that every member of the newspaper recognizes: The Ted Tajima award recognizing excellence in student journalism. From 1948 to 1983 Tajima served as advisor to Alhambra High's Moor Newspaper.
"To his students, he was "T" or "Mr. T," a man of inspiration and exacting standards. He spent his entire teaching career at the school," the Los Angeles Times reports in an obituary that ran Sunday. "Under his tutelage the student newspaper had a decades-long run as one of the best in the country."
Tajima passed away February 20 at the age of 88.
The Times tells how Tajima, the son of a Japanese minister, aspired to become a journalist after graduating from Occidental College in 1946, but anti-minority bias thwarted that dream. Instead he became a teacher at Alhambra High School. He touched myriad lives during his years at the school, and tributes have begun to pour in on a Facebook fan group dedicated to him, the LA Times, and to the Alhambra Source. Decades after he stopped teaching at Alhambra High his legacy remained: "The Ted Tajima Award taught us about who he is, what he stands for, and it inspired us to keep up Alhambra High School's journalistic standards," wrote Evelina Giang, who was a recipient of his award.
A memorial service will be held March 12, 2011 at 10 am. First Presbyterian Church, 2775 Lincoln Ave, Altadena, CA 91001
Some of the recollections about Tajima are collected below.
"T" was able to teach ethics in life and in journalism just by his example. It was in the mid-50s that I had the good fortune to be on the staff of The Moor as its photographer. In the years that followed, up to the present time, it has been evident that the passion and the love for writing in my heart came from his direction then and now. It was only a couple of weeks ago, while talking to him over the telephone, that he gave me some off-the-cuff advice that I will never forget as long as I live. "T" taught journalism from the heart and made his mark on all of us as teens as well as later in our professional careers.
— Glenn Kahl, the Matneca Bulletin, from the LA Times
"I was blessed to have Mr. Tajima as the teacher for my Junior English and Journalism classes and as the advisor of The Moor from 1965-67, when I was on the paper's staff and editorial team. His high standards, support, and wit were a winning combination; he somehow inspired a bunch of us squirrelly urban adolescents to… produce what was a truly stellar school newspaper.
I subsequently became a high school English and journalism teacher and school newspaper advisor myself here in Oregon, which helped me realize how challenging that job is. Mr. T's model was my beacon.
I'm a professional writer, too, and his thoughtful nudgings—to think for myself, to have exacting standards of clarity and integrity, to work hard—are all essential tools in my writing kit."
—Tim Gillespie, writing on the "The Ted Tajima Fan Club!" Facebook group
You [Ted Tajima] were my AHS journalism teacher from 1974-77. As a member of The Moor staff, you taught us to be precise writers. More importantly, you invited and encouraged acceptance among diverse student journalists, qualities I took to heart during my own tenure as The Moor adviser, 1987-1991. Today, these are also the same qualities I pursue at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.
—Grace Huerta, writing on the "The Ted Tajima Fan Club!" Facebook group