Lafayette Hachiro Noda
Hanover, N.H. — “There is a spirit in this world that knows only goodness. And that spirit beckons to each of us.” (L.N., June 2002)
Lafayette Hachiro Noda died the evening of February 9, 2013 at Kendal at Hanover at the age of 96. He lived a full and simple life, influencing many by his thoughtfulness, gentleness, and belief in the fundamental goodness of all people.
Lafayette was born in the Yamato Colony, a small Japanese American community in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He was one of nine children in an immigrant family, struggling long hours on poor land. Food was simple and protein was sometimes scarce—a piece of bread with butter and sugar was considered a treat. There were none of the luxuries Lafayette was later able to provide for his family.
Lafayette graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1939, majoring in chemistry and minoring in fruit products. Because of intense anti-Japanese prejudice, he was unable to find work after he graduated. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. government ordered the imprisonment of all West Coast Japanese and their American-born children, Lafayette was ordered to report to the Santa Anita Race Track, an “assembly center.” He was housed with other single men in horse stalls that were still smeared with manure. Later he was sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming and then to Amache in Colorado, where he joined the rest of his family.
In 1943, Lafayette left Amache and moved to Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center in Pennsylvania, where he completed a master’s thesis he’d begun at UCLA. He returned to California in 1945 and earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University.
Lafayette married Mayme Kishi (also born and raised in the Yamato Colony) in 1947 and shortly after, joined the Palo Alto Friends Meeting (Quaker). Kesaya (“Elizabeth Grace”) was born in Palo Alto in 1950. After receiving his doctorate that same year, Lafayette moved his family east—in 1951, to Madison, Wis. (where David was born) for a post doctoral position at the Enzyme Institute; in 1956 to Bethesda, Md. for work at the Naval Medical Research Institute; and in 1957 to Hanover and the Biochemistry Department of the medical school at Dartmouth. Lafayette was promoted to full professor and in 1960 was named chair of the biochemistry department. When the Guggenheim Foundation awarded him a fellowship in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 1968, he and his family spent a year in Japan. He retired from Dartmouth in 1981 but continued to collaborate with colleagues in Germany for many years afterward.
One would be hard pressed to find someone who worked harder than Lafayette. He spent his life researching adenylate kinase, an enzyme essential for the generation of energy within cells and important in the diagnosis of heart attacks. Many nights, he tended his experiments at the laboratory, sleeping on the concrete floor beside his amino acid analyzer. Weekends, he worked on the land around the old colonial house in Meriden, N.H., where the family moved in 1959. As he approached retirement, he and Mayme planted Christmas trees and blueberries for a pick-your-own farm operation.
Lafayette was a firm believer in efficiency—wasted motion, time, or effort were to be avoided at all costs. He worked hard in the fields, frequently in silence because he was not one to squander precious energy on idle conversation. In all that he did, he used his brain. A small man, he could maneuver an oil drum full of diesel fuel from a truck bed to a storage shed without breaking a sweat, and he could fix almost anything. Little was discarded in the Noda household, be it a frying pan, stove, or mower.
Lafayette became Quaker when he was in his twenties, and Quaker values guided his life, and Mayme’s, for the next 70 years. He and Mayme were committed to non-violence and social activism. Because of their belief in the sanctity of all lives, they opposed the Vietnam War, objected to the military draft, and resisted the prejudice directed at Arab Americans following the taking of hostages in Iran. Together they helped found the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund, which provides scholarship support to young students of Southeast Asian heritage. The fund was established to commemorate the assistance the Quakers and others offered to young Japanese Americans during the war, enabling them to leave the prison camps for colleges and universities throughout the United States.
Lafayette tenaciously held the hope that if everyone tried to make it so, the world could be a better place. He believed in the importance of generosity and kindness, the imperative to work for peace, and the need to give to those less fortunate. A scientist to the end, he was committed to the facts as he saw them and to the truth as he experienced it. His research deepened his sense of wonder in the miracles of the world. Lying beneath an apple tree and looking straight up through the branches to the sky during his morning break from work one day, he marveled. “Look at those leaves. Photosynthesizing away!”
Age and Alzheimers inevitably limited Lafayette’s abilities, but with each loss, he valiantly and brilliantly found means to compensate. When he could no longer work on the farm or live on his own, he made his way to acceptance. In his final years, he at last permitted himself to rest. A quiet man for most of his life, he changed, greeting people and circumstances with a huge smile, open arms, and peals of loud, exuberant laughter.
Lafayette is survived by Kesaya and her husband, Chris Dye, residents of Meriden. David and his wife, Kay Nishiyama live in New York City. The family is deeply grateful to the staff at Kendal, who cared for Lafayette with unfailing tenderness and skill.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 2:30 p.m. in the Gathering Room at Kendal. If friends wish to make a gift, Lafayette would have been grateful for support offered to: The NSRC Fund (19 Scenic Drive, Portland, CT 06480), New Hampshire American Friends Service Committee (4 Park St., Suite 209, Concord, NH 03301), or The Pickett Fund for staff (Kendal at Hanover, 80 Lyme Rd, Hanover, NH 03770).