Hirano was recently honored by the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy with a Global Ambassador Award, which recognizes an individual who best represents the mission and expertise of the school in a global setting. Throughout her career, she has worked to promote human rights, including the right to health care, economic fairness and educational opportunity and has led efforts to bridge communities.
“It’s especially a pleasure to be acknowledged with the [Global] Ambassador’s Award as my work now with the U.S.-Japan Council is focused on building global relationships, especially between the United States and Japan,” Hirano said. “It’s critically important that we find ways to encourage young people to see themselves as both citizens and as individuals who can make a difference in the world.”
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has known Hirano for three decades, presented her with the award at a gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She is a prominent member of the philanthropic community including her position as chair and trustee of the Ford Foundation and a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is also a USC alum, holding both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public administration from the Price School and an active member of the Price School’s Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy.
Chairman Ridley-Thomas recalled her leadership many years ago as the executive director of the T.H.E. Clinic in Southwest Los Angeles, where she brought treatment for the bodies, minds and souls of those who fell between the cracks in the health care system.
“Health and healing have many dimensions. The physical health of individuals cannot be separated from the civic health of neighborhoods, communities and nations,” he said. “Irene understood this, and combined her health care work with civil rights leadership.”
Hirano, who was married to the late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, also served on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California when Ridley-Thomas was named its executive director. During that time, Hirano also led the effort to build the Japanese American National Museum, which tells the story and contributions of Japanese Americans in the United States.
In 1988, when she became the executive director of the museum, the wounds of World War II remained fresh and the legacy of internment of American citizens of Japanese descent remained contentious.
“Now, thanks to the work of leading citizens like Irene, Los Angeles is an example for the world of cooperation and progress among diverse peoples,” said Ridley-Thomas. “The Japanese American experience –showcased by the Japanese American National Museum—is a model of reconciliation between a persecuted community and their nation. It is Irene’s legacy in Los Angeles that provides a foundation and a set of tools for her to elevate her work today, promoting human rights globally and cooperation among nations once at war.”