It’s been two weeks since my father died, and it still feels so raw. I’ve tried getting through writing this obituary for over a week, and it’s felt near impossible to finish. Lots of tears, anguish and emotion. Then my aunt told me, “Maybe it’s never finished. Maybe you type up what you’re thinking and feeling right now and just send it out.” So here we go …
As most of you know, my father, Mas, passed away on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. After a courageous year-long battle, he succumbed to stage 4 pancreatic cancer at age 72, with my husband and myself by his side until his final breath.
Masayuki Hirai Kimball was born in Otsu, Japan, on July 14, 1949. His parents, Theodore and Terumi Kimball, moved the family to the U.S. in 1956. My dad was the oldest of five, and they grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.; he graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School. Although Mas only partially completed his degree at the City College of New York, he was very successful with his computer software and technology business, MicroWare Systems.
My dad was fully committed to everything he felt passionate about. He was an excellent tennis player, even though he didn’t take up the sport until his late 20s. I remember spending weekends at the tennis club, or traveling somewhere for a tournament. This is probably where my love-hate relationship with tennis began. His love for the game led him to his “retirement job” as a tennis professional. Over the years, he taught at Hudson Valley in Hastings, N.Y. (the tennis club I’d spent so many weekends at!), and Island Inn Tennis and Farm Neck Tennis, both in Martha’s Vineyard. He was named Pro of the Year in 2001, and the plaque always hung in his office. Mas was also the tournament director of several national and international tennis events. He even won 17 gold balls in USTA national tournaments!
In November 1996, my father traveled on a monthlong trip to Nepal to trek the mountains on a Buddhist spiritual journey. It was an incredible and enlightening experience for him, and I always enjoyed the stories he told me about the trip. Dad taught me to live my life as a Buddhist in many ways. As I got older, we talked about Buddhism, and he shared many books on the subject with me. We discussed the Buddhist teachings and went on a noble silence meditation retreat together in May 2019. Experiencing my Buddhist journey with his mentorship was something that really bonded us. While going through his belongings, I found a journal he kept during his trip. I’ve been reading a passage each night, and it has been a nice way to feel closer to him at a time I feel so far apart from him.
His diagnosis on Nov. 3, 2020, came as a shock to everyone. He was in the best shape of his life, playing the best tennis of his life, and was named the No. 1 tennis player in the USTA Men’s 70 Singles division for 2020. The medal and certificate came in the mail about a week before he passed. This moment is when it seemed clear to him that he would be leaving this life soon. Knowing he would never play his favorite sport again. Thinking about this makes me smile and tear up at the same time.
Just like he dealt with all experiences in life, my dad managed his illness with strength and grace. He wanted to spend as much time with his loved ones and doing what he loved — playing tennis, getting involved with politics and various climate change and tennis organizations, dining out, and being on his computer — as much as possible. Dad always kept a positive attitude. Chemo days were for naps and Netflix, and chatting with a new chemo buddy at the hospital. He was always thankful to have his pain managed, and still be able to eat his favorite foods. On days he wasn’t feeling great, he’d always say, “It is what it is.” And one time, I responded with, “Yeah, some days are better than others, huh?’ And that’s how his medical update blog became titled “Some Days Are Better than Others.”
Mas had to sell the RV he’d purchased to travel the country playing tennis tournaments, as he had to stay local due to his treatment. He still managed to travel to play in tennis tournaments, and we went to Martha’s Vineyard, “our happy place,” almost monthly. I would say his last year was filled with great times, and we made some unforgettable memories.
The last few weeks were tough, to say the least. The things going on around me felt surreal. The man I saw as my strong hero deteriorated in front of me. The last 48 hours were even worse. There are so many good times to be remembered, but these are moments that will live with me forever. I will always cherish keeping my promise to my father that I would be there for him throughout his sickness, especially in the end. I feel honored to have been by his side during his final moments.
Within days of my father’s death, I’d already received an overwhelming amount of emails, texts, and calls from family, friends, and friends of my dad’s, some of whom I’ve never even had a chance to meet. Everyone talks about how my dad made them feel like they were somehow the only person in the world when you were engaging in a conversation with him. He had a way of making you feel special. Thank you so much for all of your condolences and for sharing your memories of my father with me. Your support means so much to my family and me.
One of the things you want as a child is for your parents to be proud of you. From what my dad has told me in the past and from what I’ve recently heard from so many of you, I know he was very proud of me. And that gives me peace.
Aside from his son-in-law/my husband, Chris, and me, Mas is survived by his sisters Christina Kumi Kimball, Nora Kimball-Mentzos, and Anna White; brother Teiji Kimball; brother-in-laws Dominik Mentzos and Leroy White; and nieces and nephews Tamika Kimball Ruffin, Jeremiah Kimball, Samuel Kimball, Teiji Kimball Jr., Taaj Sallid, Zachary Mentzos, Zena Mentzos, Teiko Ruffin, Victoria Ruffin, and Darryl Ruffin. He also leaves behind extended family, many friends, and his girlfriend of one year, Amy Davies.
I know my dad was so happy to see his siblings and many family members in his final weeks.
A small memorial service for my father will be held on Jan. 8 in New York. Due to COVID restrictions, there is limited capacity, but the service will be streamed. A large celebration of life will take place in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 2022.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to one of the following organizations that Mas contributed his time, efforts and money to: National Senior Men’s Tennis Association; Hospice & Palliative Care of Martha’s Vineyard; or the climate organization 350.
–Keiko Kimball Gouty