Takahashi-Suzuki Family

A gift story, as told by Margine Sako, Executive Director for the St. Mary’s Medical Center Foundation in San Francisco: 

It is always gratifying to fundraise for St. Mary’s Medical Center.  Donor gifts of any size usually involve a chain of very personal interactions among the patient and their families with physicians, nurses, and hospital staff.  Through the years the Foundation has seen many heartening stories, but there are always pleasant surprises.  St. Mary’s received a $1.9 million bequest from Mrs. Martha Suzuki, who was not a patient of the hospital.

From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the Takahashi retail stores and national wholesale business were known for high-end, fashionable Japanese imports.  In San Francisco, there was a large very trendy store in Ghirardelli Square and the wholesale operation was housed in a brick building where the family name could be seen from the freeways.  The founders were Henri and Tami Takahashi, and Tami’s sister Martha and her husband managed the large import business. Pictured here is Martha's nephew, Norman, and his wife Elaine at the dedication of their family's plaque in the newly named Takahashi-Suzuki Heart and Vascular Center.

Before WWII, the two sisters grew up a few blocks from St. Mary’s.  Their father was a successful businessman and owned one of the first cars in San Francisco. He would drive the girls everywhere.  Although Martha was known as an astute businesswoman, investor, and collector and admirer of Japanese culture and art, she also had a great passion for purchasing unusual cars. Martha often claimed that she inherited this passion from her father. Throughout her life Martha owned about every collector car available. Her last was a limited model BMW which took 5 years to build and could go up to 180 miles per hour. Just a few months prior to her passing, she still loved to drive her car 90 to 100 miles down the freeway.

The sisters became widowed a number of years ago and were very close.  They lived in the same retirement building and were visited often by the Foundation staff.  Tami was a St. Mary’s patient and Martha was not.  But, any solicitations and discussions about the gifts were done with Martha because she handled all the family business.  When we would unsuccessfully solicit large gifts, which was often, she would smile and simply say “don’t worry, I grew up down the block from St. Mary’s and always think of it as my hospital.”

In early 2012, Martha peacefully passed away and we were notified of her extremely generous gift.  We now realize that she was giving us an all-knowing smile – she knew all along about her intention to gift St. Mary’s with one of its largest gifts in decades.  In addition to supporting St. Mary’s, she helped establish the Henri & Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation.  She always believed that it is not about how much money you have but rather what you can do to make a difference in people’s lives. In 2010, Martha was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays from the Government of Japan for her contribution toward improving U.S. - Japan relations. Martha is survived by her only sister Tomoye Tami Takahashi, her niece Masako Takahashi, nephew Norman Takahashi, and sister-in-law Setsuko Suzuki of Tokyo, Japan.”