By Sheri Williams
On December 23, Labor champion Dean Murakami, a fixture at the Sacramento Central Labor Council for decades, passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Murakami served on the executive board of the SCLC and gave his energy, intelligence and insights to the Labor movement across the region and the state.
“There was no one as committed, informed or caring as Dean,” said Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso. “He was my mentor and my friend, and we will always continue this fight with Dean in our hearts.”
Murakami was born in 1952 to Chikashi and Marjorie Murakami in Los Angeles, and was a proud product of the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to an obituary.
After high school, Murakami attended Harbor Jr. College, California State University Long Beach and University of California Riverside where he earned a PhD in Psychology and met his future wife, Patricia.
Dean’s achievements include serving as a Scientific Director of NASA mission STS-90, NeuroLab, on the Space Shuttle Columbia, and published over 35 scientific articles about how the brain regulates its rhythm organized around the day.
Murakami’s commitment to organized Labor was evident in his many leadership roles. He served as Vice President of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, Northern Vice President Community College at California Federation of Teachers, President at Faculty Association of California Community College and President at Los Rios College Federation of Teachers.
Whether it was Cesar Chavez Day, MLK marches or rallies at the Capitol, Murakami was often at the megaphone, reminding the crowd that solidarity always wins.
Murakami and Patricia married in 1985 and settled in Sacramento where they remained, blissfully in love, according to the obituary. He held the position of Research Scientist in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at the University of California, Davis, and then Professor of Psychology at American River College.
Friends and family remember Murakami as, “fun and funny,” according to the article, a man who loved to play golf, was an avid swimmer, photographer, fisherman, hiker and camper. Murakami also enjoyed traveling with Patricia to numerous exotic destinations around the world. Their home was a cornerstone to many gatherings of family and friends.
Dean was remembered by friends and colleagues during a Zoom conference in late December, as well as on social media.
Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra adjourned a January meeting of the Sacramento City Council in Murakami’s memory, highlighting Labor achievements including fighting for pensions for community colleague professors, and battling for more security for part-time instructors as well as vulnerable students including veterans and those facing housing insecurity.
He also served as a commissioner on the Measure U advisory commission for the city, helping direct money to underserved communities.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg described Murakami as being both fierce and kind, a description echoed by others who knew him.
“The thing about Dean Murakami is that he understood coalition politics without compromising his or his organization’s core principles,” wrote friend Angelo Williams in a tribute. “In a world where polarities seem to be the status quo, it’s important to remember how Dean actually got things done. That’s my perspective as a legislative staffer, Ed policy consultant and faculty member during the past 20 years. Dean was everybody’s confidential consultant. He was a wise and connected colleague you could call to check the politics and policy on any situation. He will be missed by all.”
Belinda Lum also honored Murakami with a social media remembrance, writing, “He could calculate the amount of ongoing and one-time dollars left in our faculty budget ten times faster than accountants with calculators and would then sit there and wait patiently while others caught up. He got things done by being prepared and doing his homework and exercising a ridiculous amount of patience.”
Labor professor and former CFT staffer Fred Glass said, “Dean’s heart was bigger than the world. He came up with the idea for the March for California’s Future, which set CFT on the path to the Millionaire’s Tax and passing Prop 30. There is no replacing him. Rest in power Dean.”
Friend and SCLC colleague Ric Barreto said, “He was a wonderful example of humility and strength, fortitude standing with a smiling heart. He was so unassuming yet so steady, so understanding of his power of persuasion without abrasiveness.”
SCLC staffer Teresa Villasenor put it simply but said what so many others felt. “Kindest, sweetest person I ever knew.”
Murakami is survived by his wife Patricia Murakami, brothers Brian Murakami (wife Anita and son Kyle), Myron Murakami, Marvin Murakami and Darryl Murakami (wife Georgia, sons Tyler and Travis, daughter Taitlyn and stepdaughter Tanya).