Gay Tokumaru Bessen

May 6, 1962March 9, 2018

Gay Tokumaru Bessen, 55 died on March 9th, 2018 after a brief battle with cancer. As vivid as the streaks of color in her hair, she reveled in the love of her husband, Andy Bessen, and the company of her friends and family. Gay loved the outdoors, loved to travel with Andy, and would cheerfully haul him out of the house or the hotel in the wee hours to hike a mountain and watch the sunrise.

Gay grew up in Hawaii and graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Tokumaru went on to become the Chief of Optometry at the Hampton VA Medical Center in Virginia, a professional journey that provided care to our veterans for 29 years.

Gay met many strangers, but had a knack of leaving as friends.

Gay is survived by her husband Andy, her mother Ann Tokumaru of Hawaii, her cats, her two brothers, numerous family and great friends, all of whom will miss her dearly.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent in her memory to Nelson County Almost Home Pet Adoption Center, 29 Stagebridge Road, Lovington, Virginia 22949-2446.

Her memorial service will be held at Nelsen Funeral Home on 3785 Strawberry Plains Road in Williamsburg, Virginia at 1:30 on Saturday, March 24th. Following the service, guests are invited to join in a toast to Gay at Craft 31 at 3701 Strawberry Plains Road.

There will be a service held in Honolulu at a later date. Online condolences may be offered at


  • Gay is survived by her husband Andy, her mother Ann Tokumaru of Hawaii, her cats, her two brothers, numerous family and great friends, all of whom will miss her dearly.


24 March


1:30 p.m.

Nelsen Funeral Home Chapel

3785 Strawberry Plains Road
Williamsburg, Virginia


  • Visitation

Gay Tokumaru Bessen

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Geoffrey F. Chiara, O.D.

March 20, 2018

Sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to the Bessen family at this time of loss. Gay was valuable and trusted friend and colleague who will be sorely missed by all.

Olga Kochurova

March 20, 2018

I will greatly miss Gay. Dr.T -as the students called her, was an extraordinary teacher and residency supervisor. She was passionate and meticulous about every case, every chart and presentation I got to complete as a resident. She dedicated herself entirely to the care of the patients and teaching when she was at the VA. The patients loved seeing her every time, we had a tough time getting patients out of the exam chair because they simply enjoyed their time with Dr.T who always had something funny and personal to say during their exam. We laughed and had funny jokes about our day. Every day was intense, engaging, and fun to be next to Dr.T. We last got to see each other on the most important day of my life - on my wedding day. She was there for me simply always, ever since our paths crossed. I’m grateful to God for giving me a chance to have her in my life, she will continue to live in our hearts and memories .

Sharon Atkin

March 19, 2018

I was shocked to open my email from the Academy and receive the news of this devastating loss. I met Gay through VA optometry early in her career and we became great friends for many years and served together on the board of NAVAO of a number of years . As others have mentioned I had no idea she was ill. This is a great loss, not only for her family and friends but also her potential students and residents, her patients and the profession of optometry as a whole. She was a dynamo and was always so positive and cheerful. She will be greatly missed.


March 19, 2018

Gay, exuded caring and special talent in dealing with her patients. Even as a student at Cal

Later, I interacted with her in the American Academy of Optometry and was always impressed with her stirring energy and commitment to service,advancing the causes that she clearly loved.

I believe Gay will be missed tremendously by the many who enjoyed her dedicated approach to commited service by helping others.

Tony Adams OD, PhD FAAO
Professor & Dean Emeritus
UCB School of Optometry
Past President, American Academy of Optometry [AAO] and American Optometric Foundation [AOF, now AAOF]

james hoekel

March 19, 2018

I think I met Gay at my first Academy meeting and I was awestruck by her energy and enthusiasm for Optometry. I volunteered to help her committee thinking she would be an outstanding mentor and colleague. 15 meetings later, I can say with a sorrowful heart that I will miss her and will think of her smile and her willingness to help her fellow man. Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη is Greek for Memory be Eternal. we pray that her memory will be eternal. May our God bless her husband and family as they cope with their loss.

Valerie Sharpe

March 19, 2018

Gay will truly be missed. I enjoyed our talks every year at Academy and I was never brave enough to take her advice and go wild with bright streaks in my hair. She was always encouraging and supportive, a great mentor. Condolences to Andy and her family.


March 19, 2018

I offer my most heartfelt condolences to Andy, Ann, and family. There are no words sufficient enough to cover over the grief of losing a beloved one. The resurrection hope God gives lets us know that we can see our loved ones again-Acts 24:15, John 5:28-29. May this help comfort you all during this most difficult time.

Brian Kawasaki

March 19, 2018

I first met Gay in 2002 when she served as one of the examiners for my AAO Fellowship oral exam. Little did I know at that time that she would go on to become a dear mentor and friend. I subsequently served with Gay for number of years on the board of the National Association of VA Optometrists, as well as the Academy’s Lectures and Workshops Committee. I learned so much from Gay during those years and was so impressed by her boundless energy and how selflessly she served the profession, as well as VA optometry. I would always look forward to seeing Gay at the annual Academy meetings where we would catch up and share laughs together. I will miss her so much, but am truly thankful to have known Gay and am grateful for all the support and encouragement she provided to me in my career. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Andy, and the rest of her family.

Brenda Edwards

March 17, 2018

Dear Andy,
Gay and I met almost 30 years ago as residents at the Kansas City VA. I was a small town girl from MO and she from Oahu. We were quite the pair. We were on a mission, along with Tim Harkins, to make changes at the VA and to serve our patients well. She was a dynamic force from the get go. We had a great year academically and in friendship. We clicked from the very beginning. She made me laugh, she taught me low vision, she met me most every year at academy for more laughs and stories....... We would stay up late on the first night we were together at academy talking for hours until we fell asleep. She was kind, loving, determined, selfless, and productive. She dearly loved you Andy and their travel adventures.
Even though we were miles apart, when we talked on the phone or saw each other it was as if time had not passed. That is a true friendship. I miss her so much. My trips to academy will now have a void, but my memories will live on forever. I love you Gay. Peace to you Andy in all your days ahead. We both had the pleasure of the presence of a remarkable lady.

Bob Tubbs

March 17, 2018

Gay lit up the room. Her love of life and vibrant personality immediately disarmed even the most introverted. Her compassion for people and animals was one of the many hallmark traits I attribute to Gay. Her love of Andy, her cats and their life together was expressed every time I saw her with her smile and sparkle in her eyes.

Whenever we had an event, she cooked up a storm. We spoke of animals often. Gay and Andy are responsible for teaching countless neglected ones to care and trust them a real chance of being adopted and loved. Their generosity of time and financial support extended that impact to so many more animals.

My last time with Gay & Andy was at a friends birthday party. We had a great time taking pictures and laughing into the night. This photo captures the relationship they had and fun loving spirit.

To her family, she was one special woman. Your daughter's accomplishments, vibrant personality and caring heart are a true reflection of your influence and her upbringing.

To Andy, you will hear this a lot right now, but if you need anything, please ask. We want to help.