Kazuro "Ray" Raymond Saito
September 16, 1932 – June 18, 2020
Kazuro Raymond Saito “Ray”, 87, of Matthews, NC died at home surrounded by family on June 18, 2020.
The youngest son of nine children, Kazuro was born in Hiratsuka, Japan on September 16,1932 to Shuji Saito and Ai Kojima Saito. He graduated from Hatano High School then attended Waseda University in Tokyo majoring in Education. Kazuro taught English at Hiratsuka Junior High for 2 years followed by another 2 years teaching at Hatano High School. When he attended these schools as a boy, he would walk to school but as a teacher he rode a small Japanese motorcycle. Early in his career, he participated in a Professional Teacher’s Exchange with teachers from the nearby American military base, Camp Zama. There he met three American teachers, Dorothy Earnest, Millie McClain (Chlupacek) and Patricia Lewis. They spoke fondly of their Universities back in the States and he especially was intrigued at the possibility of attending the University of Georgia. Meanwhile, his family had arranged a marriage to a young woman through a go-between and young Kazuro agreed to marry her, but first he wanted to fulfill his dream of attending graduate school in the States. Kazuro stayed in touch with the 3 Americans he had met from the United States and decided to attend UGA. Kazuro left Japan and landed in California and immediately took a cross country bus tour. He did not realize how large the USA was and how long this would take. At that time, foreign students could only bring $500.00 into the country and they were required to have a sponsor. Kazuro was sponsored by well-known Presbyterian Minister and radio personality, Dr. Manford George Gutzke. Kazuro majored in Educational Psychology and lived in the Law Graduate Dormitory at the UGA. He joined the Cosmopolitan Club where he met a blue-eyed, brunette freshman who hailed from Salisbury, North Carolina and Alexandria, Virginia. He introduced himself, stating his last name first and Mom called him “Saito” for nearly half of their marriage. And so, their beautiful love-of-a-lifetime story began. Their first date was going to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Mom was a little uncomfortable because of the way Mickey Rooney portrayed Mr. Yunioshi in the movie but Saito didn’t seem offended. Months later he would profess his love and devotion by giving her a pendant necklace with a small diamond chip in it and told her he was the “Prince of the Orient” and she believed him. He never gave another thought about his betrothal back in Japan as he was set on his love match here in the States. Karen Butler and Kazuro Saito were married at First United Methodist Church in Salisbury, NC on September 2, 1962. They made their home in Augusta where Saito served as the Director for the Lynndale School. In 1965, they moved to the Charlotte area so that Saito could teach Special Education at Pineville Elementary and later at Randolph Middle School. Saito continued his certification and ultimately worked as a School Psychologist for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System retiring after 27 years in 1993.
In 1967, Kazuro Saito renounced his Japanese Citizenship and became a Naturalized United States Citizen. At that time, he took the middle name “Raymond” because, according to him, both Kazuro and Raymond mean “Man of Peace”. Even though he was no longer a citizen, Ray took his family back to Japan a dozen times. He relished planning the itinerary to visit his 3 brothers, 5 sisters and their families as well as many historical and tourist destinations. In his later years, he managed to attend Middle and High School Reunions and took 7 grandkids one or two at a time to tour his native land and meet many relatives. Whenever he visited Japan, people told him that he spoke archaic Japanese. He admitted once that he had become so American that he actually dreamed in English.
Family was everything to Ray. He converted from Buddhism to United Methodist to join a larger Christian family. He raised his 4 daughters and was a strict disciplinarian. He stressed the importance of education and encouraged all his children and grandchildren to earn scholarships for college. He attended his daughters’ sports events and drove the horse trailer to countless horse shows. He later got more involved and became the Navigator for Karen’s Haflinger Carriage Driving events. He attended almost every Beeton-Vetter Family Reunion and played “Oh Susanna” on harmonica at the Family talent shows. Ray loved to take the family camping in a truck camper to Lake Arrowhead Campground in Myrtle Beach where they would stay in the wooded campsites and eat Calabash shrimp at the All-You-Can-Eat buffet. He loved inland, shore and deep sea fishing. He mistakenly assumed he wouldn’t get sea sick because he was from an island country. He attended many activities of his grandchildren including A Wando High School Soccer State Championship game, baseball games, Hickory Ridge Homecoming, Butler High School and Drum Corps International band events and many swim meets.
Ray had a deep respect for the military and in the late 1980’s, he joined the Civil Air Patrol. He often flew with the late Curly Martin to search for lost planes. He retired as a Major and his biggest thrill was becoming an Honorary Tailhooker having survived an aircraft carrier landing aboard the USS Lexington. He received the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol L.B. Martin Memorial Award (named for his close friend, Curly) in 1995 from the Piedmont Senior Squadron North Carolina Wing.
Ray always had a garden and grew many Japanese vegetables from seeds. His friends of 50 years, Mati and Hiroko Suzuki were surprised to learn recently that Saito-san could cook many traditional Japanese foods, such as Pork Katsudon, Sukiyaki, Shrimp Tempura, sushi, fried rice and ramen. Customarily, Japanese men only cook special foods once a year on New Year’s Day. Later in life, we were pleasantly surprised when he diversified and offered us his new found specialities, apple pie, vegetable soup, Quiche Lorraine and enchilada casserole.
Ray loved meeting people and had many life-long friends, among them-- many Japanese American friends, a 70 year friendship with Yoichi Ino of Kanagawa, Japan, a 60 year friendship with Duane Farabaugh of Forest Hills, NY, a retirement friendship with Jim Lovett, a brotherly friendship with the Late Juan Vitella, and a fatherly friendship with former neighbor, Samuel Cortes. He also had a special relationship with all 4 son-in-laws, tackling home improvement projects, automotive maintenance and going fishing.
Our father faced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis with hope and a deep desire to live as long as possible so he could continue to help care for our mother and the 5 acres of land that he had lived on for 44 years. We would like to thank his Internist Dr. Gregory Musa, his Oncologist, Dr. Adam Kuykendal and their entire medical staff. We would like to thank Dr. White at Synergy Holistic Health. A special thanks to Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte and his Nurse, Vicki Casstellucci, RN.
Survivors include wife, Karen Butler Saito of Matthews; sister, Fukuko Hamada of Oiso, Japan and sister-in-laws; Miyoko Saito of Hiratsuka, Japan and Sarah Butler of Winston Salem, NC; brother-in-law; Samuel Butler, Jr of Stockbridge, GA; Daughters; Dr. Angela Saito (Jeff Donaldson) of Mt Pleasant, SC, Michelle Brewer (Buddy) of Harrisburg, NC, Aimee Saito (Jimmy Wright) and Joanna Saito (Scott Betz) both of Charlotte. 11 Grandchildren: Zach Donaldson (Meghan), Devin Donaldson; Adam, Madison, Abby, Branson & Lawson Brewer; Cameron & Alex Wright; Jack and Graham Betz; and multitudes of extended family in the States and in Japan.
Memorials may be made to Cokesbury UMC, 6701 Idlewild Rd., Charlotte, NC or pancan.org. McEwen Mint Hill is entrusted with Arrangements. A Celebration of his Life is planned for a later date.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Kazuro "Ray" Raymond Saito
Matti and Hiroko Suzuki
July 2, 2020
Dear:Saito san and family our heartfelt sincerity goes out to you all in this time of need we have been lifelong friends for 50 years it all started in September 1969 when Karen and I were neighbors in the hospital because of my English barrier Mr Saito had to go in between rooms to translate for me. Amy was born on September 20 1969 and our daughter Ayumi was born on the next day on September 21 and we have been lifelong friends ever since then we have many fond memories of the Saito family and we look forward to many . With much Love Matti and Hiroko
July 1, 2020
To the family of Ray Saito:
I am truly sorry for your loss. I knew Ray when he was the school psychologist at East Mecklenburg. He had an office in the library, and he used to have lunch with the library staff.
He was an outstanding person.
Augie E. Beasley
June 29, 2020
I knew Saito from his very early days in the US when he stayed with our family in Carrollton, Ga. He was always very kind and appreciative and became close to our family. One of my most vivid memories was taking him to the driving and written tests to get his drivers license in a nearby town. We were both nervous but he passed on the first try.
It was always fun to keep up with him and his growing family over the years and all his many accomplishments. I'll miss him. All the best to his loving family.
Tom and Shirley LeVines
June 28, 2020
We were sorry to hear of Ray’s passing. We hope God will be with this wonderful family during this time of grief. We have a lot of memories of Ray and Karen through the years.
The life story was interesting and fascinating and we learned some things about Ray we did not know.
Again thanks for keeping us informed of Ray’s condition throughout his illness. Of course, Joyce kept us up to date.
Again, God be with Karen, all the children, and grandchildren and their families.
Tom and Shirley
June 26, 2020
I am grateful to have had bits of time with Ray and Karen. Ray’s love for his wife and family was apparent from our first meeting. Ray had a youthful and engaging spirit. His insatiable curiosity, and dynamic interest in growth was so sincere that I felt an immediately connected to him. My prayers are with Karen, Angela, Michele, Aimee and Joanna and the whole family. How blessed they are that their life has been enriched by sharing their lives with this beautiful man.
June 26, 2020
Each time I learn something new about Mr & Mrs Saito and their extended family, I am struck by the love that was shared and how it enveloped so many. Thank you for telling us the great history of how Mr Saito came to the U.S. and how the Saito dynasty was born in Matthews, NC. I will always remember the incredible joy on Angie's parents' faces when their girls were together, and how quickly they included so many of us in their extended family. Both have been such wonderful teachers and examples in our lives. I am so grateful to have had the Saito clan in my life. With love, Bill.
June 26, 2020
My dear friend Angela Saito always spoke so highly of her dad. He was a fixture in my mind as we navigated UNCG—and part of her inspiration for her attending medical school. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you in your loss.