James Masao Fujimoto, PhD
James Masao Fujimoto, 95, passed away peacefully on Jan. 16, 2024, in Wauwatosa. He is survived by his wife, Akiko (nee Funatsu), and daughters, Naomi and Yukie (Todd) Lindsey. He is also survived by his sister, Dorothy (Mo) Yanagi, and her children, Ann (Scott), Amy (Robin), Gayle (Roberto), and Glenn (Michelle).
Jim was born on May 10, 1928, in Vacaville, California, to Tsuneki and Nui Fujimoto, who were Japanese immigrants. He had two older siblings, Haruki and Mishi, who preceded him in death.
Jim was Nisei (second generation), and from 1942 to 1945, he was detained in Gila River, Arizona, at a wartime relocation camp. He relocated to Illinois and graduated from New Trier High School, then attended the University of California, Berkeley, completing a bachelor’s in biochemistry and a doctorate in comparative pharmacology and toxicology.
In 1956, he joined the faculty at the Tulane University School of Medicine. While in New Orleans, he met and married Akiko, in 1967.
A year later, they moved to Milwaukee and Jim became a research scientist and professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (back then, the Marquette School of Medicine). He spent the remainder of his career at the Medical College and Veterans Administration, and was deeply committed to studying opioids and pain mechanisms: He received decades of continuous research funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, published hundreds of articles, and mentored dozens of graduate students and postdocs. In 1996, he received the Medical College’s Distinguished Service Award.
Though Jim was Buddhist in his upbringing, he also enjoyed the discipline of golf. He embraced waking up early and walking the course. In warm weather, he practiced his chipping on the lawn, which he was meticulous about maintaining. (In the winter, he practiced in the living room.) Throughout his life, golf was his main hobby, and he especially appreciated the more recent rounds he played with Jim J., Lee, and Kerry as part of Greenfield Senior Men’s Golf.
He also loved dogs, once fashioning a coat for Naomi’s lab mix from vinyl left over from a bar stool. He planned many family road trips, navigating with paper maps to South Carolina and Florida and stopping at Cracker Barrel along the way. Stubbornly self-sufficient, he chopped down small trees and cleaned gutters well into his 80s.
Jim was a fan of Akiko’s cooking (especially her pork spareribs), Chinese seafood, and burgers from Gilles. In his later years, he loved his Pepsi and potato chips, whether while watching a Packer game or as a midnight snack.
James and Akiko moved to independent living at Harwood in September 2023, he at the tender age of 95. The family is grateful for the staff and community there and that he called Wauwatosa home for over 50 years.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Wisconsin Humane Society or the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. A memorial gathering will be held in Wauwatosa; visit schmidtandbartelt.com for details.