Tuesday, May 28, 2024

John Sato an inspiration

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WWII veteran John Sato was the centre of attention during Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s visit to Howick in April 2019 specifically to meet him. Also pictured is Howick businesswoman Bo Burns who organised that visit. Photo Wayne Martin

WWII veteran John Sato has died aged 98.

Sato, from Howick, received global recognition for his efforts to attend an anti-racism rally in Auckland held at Aotea Square on March 24, 2019 in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.

One of only two Japanese servicemen in the New Zealand army in World War II, felt compelled to show his support for the Muslim community following the Christchurch terror attacks.

He took several buses to get into the city. Sato left his house on Sunday morning, March 24 to visit a mosque in Pakuranga before deciding to go into Auckland City centre for an anti-racism march.

In a photo that caught the attention of people across the world, Sato is seen flanked by a police officer and a member of the public as they fall behind the March.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during her visit to Howick the photo was so powerful, she found herself coming back to it over and over again.

She said at the time meeting Sato was a privilege and that “he is an inspiring reminder of kindness, love and courage”.

Sato briefly addressed the crowd and said, “”What I’ve seen since that terrible occasion in Christchurch, is the way people have brought out what’s within them and that is genuine care and love…

“We are all part of one family – the human family. Let’s not forget that we do care for each other.”

Times reporter Therese Milne (then Henkin) wrote at the time: “The pair sat down, along with around 70 other invited guests at the Howick Bowling Club, to watch a fun musical performance by the Cockle Bay Primary School Choir.

“Ardern sang along with the youngsters and then spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with Sato.”

Arden later shared a tribute to Sato with her 596,000 Instagram followers.

“Thank you John,” she wrote. “Your actions warmed the hearts of so many during a time of such sadness.”

Howick businesswoman and Howick Local Board member Bo Burns has been friends with Sato for six years.

“We met as I stopped to help him cross the road as a car nearly hit him and then spent the day with him at the doctors and hospital as he was unwell and going to catch…public transport for an emergency procedure,” Burns said.

“In those six years,  I enjoyed a special bond where I learned about his incredible life story, his love of many cultures – including his Scottish and Japanese heritage – and love for humanity and peace.

“His grace and outlook on life is something I will treasure forever and inspire to be more like. He is now at peace and reunited with his much-loved wife Margaret, and adored daughter Anne.  I will cherish his wise guidance and fabulous sense of humour.

“One of his favourite sayings was ‘Bear the unbearable with patience and dignity’. This is a Japanese motto that he lived by. I will continue to share this in honour of John. Rest in peace my friend. You will be missed around east Auckland by many people you became friends with.”

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