Robert Nakamura

Robert Nakamura

Robert Nakamura

WESTERLO — Robert Nakamura, whose life was rich in adventure, knowledge, and family, died on Thursday, July 26, 2018. He was 73.

“He really did a lot of extraordinary things,” said his son, Jeffrey Nakamura.

Mr. Nakamura was born on April 23, 1945 in Tule Lake, a Japanese internment camp in California. The largest of the 10 camps used by the United States government to detain people of Japanese descent during world War II, it was closed less than a year after Mr. Nakamura’s birth in 1946.

“He wasn’t old enough to remember what happened,” said his daughter, Lauren Nakamura. “But I think for him certainly the fact that his family being interned did make him sympathetic to political causes …,” she said, particularly to minorities and to civil-rights issues.

Mr. Nakamura would go on to study political science at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his doctorate in the subject in 1975. He met the woman who would become his wife, Jaye, while she was studying at Mills College, 10 miles from Berkeley. Like Mr. Nakamura, she was active in political and social movements; she was a volunteer on the Oakland Labor Council, and he attended many of the council’s protests and marches.

They were married close to 60 years ago, on Aug. 25, 1968, after which their honeymoon included a visit to the infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which began a day later.

Mr. Nakamura taught for a short period of time at schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan and San Diego, California before teaching at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for 12 years. He and his wife lived in Vermont during that time with their two children before they moved to Japan in 1982, where Mr. Nakamura would begin teaching at Saitama University for a year.

His son recalls sitting in his parents’ car when he was in kindergarten and being told, “Guess what, we’re moving to Japan!”

“It was a little jarring initially,” he said.

Mr. Nakamura spoke some Japanese at home in his youth, but he wasn’t fluent, and so he taught political science classes at Saitama in English. In the 1980s, with Japan approaching its economic boom, Mr. Nakamura also studied how trade between the United States and Japan affected policy.

Later in his life, Mr. Nakamura would continue to travel all over the world to work on legislative development in places like the Balkans, Somalia, and Uganda. For a year, in 2005, he worked in Nigeria to monitor elections, workers’ rights, and other government activities.

“I think he loved adventure and experiencing new cultures,” said his son.

“He loved learning and he loved sharing what he learned,” his daughter added.

Much of Mr. Nakamura’s work also involved regulations, particularly the policies involved to clean up superfund sites.

After teaching in Japan, Mr. Nakamura returned to the United States and began teaching at the University at Albany in 1984, where he worked until retiring a few years ago, remaining a professor emeritus.

He and his family moved to Westerlo, where he lived for over 30 years and where his children grew up. His wife, who had bred show dogs before, took on raising sheep and eventually went on to coordinate the “wool tent” at the Altamont Fair.

Mr. Nakamura had a wide range of skills and hobbies that extended beyond academia. His son said he built a replica of a Shaker cradle for him in the woodshop at Dartmouth where he worked at the time.

“His father was the carpenter at Tule Lake,” said the younger Mr. Nakamura.

Mr. Nakamura also enjoyed activities outdoors like hunting and fishing, and would take his children cross-country skiing, bicycling, or to tennis courts in the town park. He also helped track geese through a program with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Mr. Nakamura took after his mother in that he was a great cook who made a dishes from a variety of cultures, including Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese, and Southern-style American. He enjoyed amassing kitchen “gadgets” to prepare food, such as an electric rotisserie, an outdoor wok, and a “paella rig.”

“Dad’s paella was really good,” said his daughter, describing the Spanish dish of rice, saffron, chicken, and seafood.

Mr. Nakamura’s love of cuisine led to many restaurants adventures. His son recalls driving all over to eat a special type of duck dish, only to find it at a terrible restaurant.

“I think he was trying to recreate his youth,” said his son. Mr. Nakamura grew up in West Los Angeles.

Mr. Nakamura also took his family on many trips, mostly locally such as to the Old Songs Festival in Voorheesville or to the Scottish Games in Altamont.

“Sometimes he would say, ‘We’re going for a drive … ,’” said his daughter. “It would be something like a drive-in or a random restaurant.”

A few trips were farther away, such as to see family in California or to fish for halibut on a trip to Alaska that included stops at glaciers, mining towns, and a short stint in Anchorage after a volcano covered the city in ash.

Mr. Nakamura loved his family, but he was an intense man involved in his work, his children said. He changed somewhat when his grandchildren were born. His daughter recalls him poring over videos of them.

“He became this extremely gentle, caring, loving man … ,” said his son. “He was just so excited to have grandkids.”

Mr. Nakamura will be fondly remembered by his family as well as his colleagues. His daughter said that many have emailed to give their condolences and recall Mr. Nakamura’s jokes and his stories. A famous quote of his was “California … where man is born free but the food is in chains.”

“He was really outgoing and funny,” she said. A social person, Mr. Nakamura loved learning about new things and passing the information on.

“I think Dad lived life to the fullest,” said his son.


Robert Nakamura is survived by his wife, Jaye Nakamura; his children, Jeffrey and Lauren Nakamura; his grandchildren, James and Pierre Nakamura; and his sister, Kathryn Nakamura.

There will be a memorial service in Mr. Nakamura’s honor on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Milne Hall at the University of Albany, at 431 Washington Ave. in Albany.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Attention: Theda Jackson-Mau, 666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012 or call Theda Jackson-Mau at 212-614-6448, or at

— H. Rose Schneider

More Obituaries

  • BERNE — Diana L. Gordinier, a loving mother and grandmother, died peacefully after a short illness on Monday, June 10, 2024. She was 77.

  • WESTERLO — Alice Mary Spinelli, who devoted her life to caring for family and friends, died on Friday, May 17, 2024, after a brief illness. She was 79.

    She was born on May 3, 1945 to a large family of nine children in Albany and grew up in Voorheesville.

  • WESTERLO — Ronald D. “Ron” Wilday, a town justice who was active in his church and community, “passed away peacefully and went to meet his Savior on Sunday, June 2, 2024,” his family wrote in a tribute. He was 90.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.