In Memoriam: Richard J. Wood

"The work of Japan Society matters because the relationship between Japan and the United States matters. It matters in all of its cultural, economic, educational, and political complexity–which also makes it endlessly fascinating." -- Richard J. Wood, 2006 

With heavy heart we share that Dr. Richard J. Wood, who served as Japan Society president from May 2006 to April 2009, passed away on Saturday August 1, 2015. An expert in Japanese philosophical thought, ethics and aesthetics, he was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by the Japanese government in 2009 for his outstanding contributions to the promotion of educational and cultural exchange between Japan and the United States. 

Wood led Japan Society through the 100th anniversary of its founding and into a pivotal new era of U.S.-Japan relations, underscored by an increasing importance of a strong alliance amid global economic, security, and environmental challenges. 

"The alliance between these two major democracies—cultural, economic and political—will continue to shape our world, especially in the Pacific region, as far into the future as I can see," said Wood. "The mutual understanding Japan Society fosters is a continuing project of great importance. For over a century, the Society has evolved into a leading cultural and educational center. It has also created a necessary public forum for discussion by Japanese, U.S. and world business and policy leaders about the vital relationship between the two countries." 

Among many accomplishments during  his time at Japan Society, Wood worked closely with programming staff to strengthen and deepen Japan Society's endeavor, steered the Society's 100th anniversary highlighted by galas in the U.S. and Japan, invested in the Society's infrastructure to broaden outreach capabilities, and created more programming opportunity beyond the Society's New York headquarters, especially in Japan. 

Upon his arrival, Wood's first order of business was to solidify the Centennial Celebration. The resulting series of large-scale, international programming ran January 2007 through June 2008 and encompassed over 120 public events. Wood steered the May 2007 Centennial Gala in New York, featuring a keynote address by former President Bill Clinton, with guests of honor Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda and David Rockefeller. The gala became the most successful benefit dinner in the Society's history, raising over $2.4 million for the organization. With support from the business and diplomatic communities, in March 2008 Wood shepherded a prestigious gala in Tokyo, celebrating 100 years of Japan Society's work towards strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. The gala occurred in the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan, an unusual honor for a foreign organization. 

“Dick was an extraordinary leader who contributed greatly to the success of the Japan Society during his tenure,” said Ambassador Motoatsu Sakurai, President of Japan Society upon Wood’s passing. “He radiated great dignity and a gentle calmness that will long be remembered.  He will be missed terribly by all who had the privilege to know and work with him over the years.”

“In 2007 Dick Wood enticed me to New York from Boston to take over Japan Society’s exhibition program, encouraging me with his tough yet practical approach, his light management touch, his enthusiasm for Japanese visual arts, and his in-depth knowledge of the field,” said Joe Earle, who served as Vice President and Director of Japan Society Gallery from 2007 to 2012. “An insightful, inspirational, and kindly leader, he will be sadly missed by everyone in the world of U.S.-Japan relations, as well as by family and friends. May he rest in peace.”

Wood initially became well known to Japan Society through his work at the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission in Washington, D.C., where he served as Chair from 1994 to 2002. After receiving his PhD in philosophy from Yale University, Wood's deep involvement with Japan began in 1966, when he joined the faculty of Earlham College. He first lived in Japan in 1968 as a Fulbright Fellow at Waseda University, undertaking an intensive study of Japanese language and philosophy. In 1970 he became Director of Earlham's programs in Japan, and, in 1973-1974 with a fellowship from The Japan Foundation, spent a year in Tokyo studying Japanese ethics and aesthetics. From 1980 to 1985, Wood was Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, Whittier College, returning to Earlham College in 1985 to serve as its President until 1996. During his presidential tenure and under his leadership, Earlham conducted its first successful capital campaign in over fifteen years, raising more than $20 million.

In 1996, Wood became Dean of Yale University's Divinity School, one of America's leading theological schools. In the course of his four-year term, he filled key faculty vacancies, rebuilt and substantially increased student enrollment, and raised $15 million towards renovating the Divinity School campus. From 2001 until the beginning of 2006, he served as President of the United Board for Christian Higher Education, a New York-based nonprofit that functions as a combined operating and grant-making foundation. Wood was founding Chair of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Methodist University and on the Board of Trustees of the Japanese-American National Museum, and was a chair of the U.S.-Japan Cultural and Education Conference, an agency of the U. S. Department of State. While serving as president at Japan Society, Wood was a repeat commentator on WNET's "World Focus" and lectured around the world. 

In addition to his distinguished career and his contributions to U.S.-Japan relations and the world at large, we at Japan Society remember Wood for his kindness, benevolence, good humor and above all his friendship. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Judy, his children, grandchildren and all of his many friends.

--Japan Society Staff


Memorial donations in memory of Dr. Richard J. Wood may be made to Japan Society through the following:
By phone:
Please contact the Individual Giving office at 212-715-1270.
By check:
Checks payable to: Japan Society
Memo: In Memory of Dr. Richard J. Wood
Mail checks to:
Japan Society
Individual Giving Office
333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
Online donations may be made by clicking the link below. Please specify the donation amount and choose the General Operating Support/Annual Fund category. On the next page, after filling in your name, address and payment information, please write In Memory of Dr. Richard J. Wood in the Comments field under Additional Information.

Donations may also be made to these organizations and initiatives:

The Richard J. Wood Asian Theologies Endowment at the United Board http://www.unitedboard.org

The Richard J. Wood Student Community Commitment Award http://indianacampuscompact.org

American Friends Service Committee https://www.afsc.org/give

Earlham College http://www.earlham.edu/giving/

Earlham School of Religion http://www.esr.earlham.edu/support

Yale Divinity School http://divinity.yale.edu/

Whittier College http://www.whittier.edu/giving

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