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Ann Yasuhara, Social Justice Advocate, Dies at 82

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Yasuhara

Ann Harris Yasuhara, 82, died at her home in Princeton on Wednesday, June 11. A logician and computer scientist, she was known for combining her Quaker faith with action focused on peace, social justice, racial equality, and the environment.

Ann’s life balanced her love for the sacredness of all life, the compassionate concerns of a Quaker activist for the world and the local community, her delight in music, gardening, and art, and her generosity to friends and family. Born on March 8, 1932 in Madison, Wisconsin, her parents were Julian Earle Harris, a noted French language educator at the University of Wisconsin, and Elizabeth Marshall Harris, a sculptor. Ann studied cooking and fashion design in Paris, attended Swarthmore College, and earned her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois. In 1970 she and her husband, Mitsuru, settled in Princeton and pursued their interests in mathematics, music, and art. Ever adventurous, they traveled widely, including regular trips to visit his family in Japan. Her favorite place was her garden.

In 1972, Ann joined the new department of computer science at Rutgers University, where she was an associate professor. She supervised the dissertations of Frank Hawrusik, Venkataraman Natarajan, and Elaine Weyuker. Ileana Streinu, now the Charles N. Clark Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at Smith College, remembers Ann Yasuhara’s classes on Recursive Function Theory and Logic and her textbook.

“It was an exquisite topic, beautiful mathematics that Ann was conveying to generations of graduate students. In a department with only a few women on the faculty, she was a model to look up to,” she said. “With grace and generosity, she touched my life and the lives of many students like me.”

Ann belonged to the living tradition of Quaker spirit-led peace and justice activists. Unflagging in her resistance to war and violence, she studied the philosophy and methods of non-violent resolution of conflict with George Lakey, the noted Quaker peace activist. In turn, she led training groups for inner city children. Within the Society of Friends, she served terms at Princeton Friends Meeting as clerk of the meeting and clerk of the committee on peace and social concerns. She also served on committees in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, an association of 103 Quaker meetings. Most recently she enthusiastically supported — and went on protests with — the nonviolent direct action group Earth Quaker Action Team, which works to end mountaintop removal coal mining. On her 79th birthday, she protested on a strenuous mountain climb in West Virginia mining country. In January, just before she was diagnosed with cancer, the Philadelphia-based group honored her as one of its outstanding “wise elders.”

“Ann was a leader in the Quaker faith and an inspiration to all of us. She set the bar very high and gave us confidence to fight for a better world,” said Janet Gardner, a documentary film maker at the Gardner Group and a member of Princeton Friends Meeting.

Within the Princeton community, Ann helped found Silent Prayers for Peace, which keeps silent vigil every Wednesday in Palmer Square. She was a founding member of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. As a founding member of Princeton’s Not in Our Town, an interracial, interfaith social action group committed to racial justice, she was instrumental in creating programs that honor and support youth of diverse backgrounds. She partnered with the Princeton Public Library to develop thought-provoking community discussions on race, white privilege, bullying, and the environment. Her work with students was notable. She was a volunteer tutor, supported the mentoring group Committed Princetonians, and served on the minority education board of Princeton Regional Schools.

She is survived by Mitsuru Yasuhara, her husband of 49 years; her godchildren Josue Rivera-Olds, Grecia N. Rivera, and Julio R. Rivera; cousins including Sarah Rogers Pyle Sener (Pikesville, Maryland), Jan Marshall Fox, J. Laird Marshall, Nancy Marshall Bauer (Madison, Wisconsin), Jane Marshall (Birmingham, Alabama), Richard H. Marshall (Toronto, Canada), James R. Marshall (Gardnerville, Nevada), and Barbara Figge Fox (Princeton, New Jersey) and their families.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 5, at 2 p.m. at the Princeton Friends Meeting.

Donations in Ann’s memory may be made to any of the many charities she supported and/or to Princeton Friends Meeting, 470 Quaker Road, Princeton NJ 08540.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Gwen Fyfe

    I’m so, so sorry to hear that Ann has passed. She was an absolute titan.

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