Mori, who taught classes that focused on women’s issues and Asian cultures, died Feb. 12 after being diagnosed with leukemia in early January. Mori spent 22 years teaching at Cal Poly. She was most passionate about Asian cultures, said geography professor and former Mori student James Keese.
“Her passion came through in her teaching, and she certainly motivated me to think about some of those important global issues,” Keese said.
Mori drew on her own personal experiences living in both China and Japan to teach. Her interest in Asian cultures dated back to her days as a student at Hofstra University, where she majored in history with a concentration on China said friend and professor emeritus Judy Saltzman.
“It was just a part of her being since she was a young girl that Asia was a deep attraction,” Saltzman said.
After graduating, Mori applied for the Peace Corps but was turned down. She was determined to go abroad, though. She got a job on her own teaching English in Korea.
There, she met Japanese businessman Y. Mori, and the two were married for five years. After they divorced, Mori went to Tokyo, where she studied the intricate Japanese tea ceremony with the Grand Tea Master of Japan.
Mori’s dedication led her to master the tea ceremony, an integral part of Japanese culture, Saltzman said.
“She was an expert on the tea ceremony,” Saltzman said.
Mori eventually returned to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Asian studies and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University to Hawaii. She then took a teaching position at Cal Poly.
Shortly after she started working at Cal Poly, however, both of Mori’s kidneys failed. She was saved by a transplant, which she lived with for 23 years.
Her weight gain and health complications bothered her, but Mori remained focused on Asia, Saltzman said.
Mori returned to Asia often, to visit Japan, China and other countries. Saltzman went with Mori and saw firsthand her knowledge of Asian culture.
“She was amazing to go to Japan with because she spoke the language, and she knew people,” Saltzman said.
Mori also visited poorer countries such as Myanmar, where her guide showed her the Zee Tha Min School, an elementary school that was very poor and in need of supplies and repairs. Mori immediately took it upon herself to champion the Zee Tha Min School’s cause, working to raise money for the students.
At Cal Poly, Mori continued to teach courses on sociology, women’s issues and Asian cultures. Her interests often intersected in her classes, said College of Liberal Arts associate dean Debra Valencia-Laver.
Mori helped create the Women’s and Gender Studies department over a decade ago, and taught about women in her sociology, humanities and women’s and gender studies classes.
“She had a strong interest and empathy for women’s issues especially in east Asia,” Valencia-Laver said.
Mori also spent time teaching in China at Shaanxi University of Science and Technology and at Hanzhong Teachers’ College. She returned to Japan from time to time to lecture at Waseda Center for International Education in Tokyo. During the summers, she would visit Hawaii occasionally to teach courses on the culture of Japan at the University of Hawaii.
In everything she did, Mori’s priority was Asian studies and learning, and not department politics, which meant she didn’t always get along perfectly with her colleagues, Saltzman said.
“At Cal Poly, she wasn’t the kind of teacher that tried to be popular,” Saltzman said.
But Mori was didn’t pay attention to her popularity. She was happy studying the cultures she loved, Saltzman said.
Mori was Buddhist, and her interest in Asia could mean that she once lived there, Saltzman said.
“Maybe she was a person that had a past life in that culture,” Saltzman said.
Mori is survived by her brother William Rowlend and sister Kathy O’Connell, as well as her son Christopher Mori.