Plant sciences professor Kentaro Inoue, 47, was killed in a bicycle crash Wednesday morning (Aug. 31, 2016) on West Capitol Avenue in Sacramento.
Police said Inoue and a Waste Management truck were both going west — Inoue, with a helmet on, riding in the bike lane — when the truck turned into Inoue’s path, and the bike and truck collided.
Sgt. Roger Kinney said Inoue was dead when officers arrived at 7:50 a.m. He said the collision appears to have been an accident, though the investigation continues and the report will be forwarded to the district attorney’s office. Kinney said the truck driver cooperated with police, and there was no indication the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Inoue is survived by his wife, Amy Brown, who completed undergraduate work in physiology at UC Davis and went on to receive a UC Davis doctorate of veterinary medicine in 2003. She is a veterinarian in Roseville.
Inoue’s friend Takao Kasuga, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher in molecular genetics in the Department of Plant Pathology, said Inoue and Brown were married in February. “He moved (from Davis) to her house in Sacramento and commuted to Davis by bike since then,” Kasuga said.
Kasuga had known Inoue since their days as postdocs at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Oklahoma. “When I first came to Davis, Kentaro helped me settle into the area, taking me hiking, to numerous restaurants and introducing me to the wine club he was a member of at that time,” Kasuga said. “He was generous, kind, a good friend, and I will miss him.”
Inoue joined the UC Davis faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor in the pomology department (later a member of the agricultural plant biology section of the new plant sciences department).
“Kentaro was an outstanding scientist and a well-liked faculty member,” said Joe DiTomaso, professor and interim chair, Department of Plant Sciences. “He was always positive and friendly and will be missed both for his research and his personality.”
Students had honored Inoue for his teaching, voting for him to receive an ASUCD Excellence in Education Award. A write-up on the Department of Plant Sciences website stated: “Inoue’s students love how he makes agricultural plant biology so accessible, bringing to life topics such as plastid biogenesis, protein trafficking, protein maturation, membrane development, photosynthesis and isoprenoid metabolism.”
He was a native of Japan, where he received a Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Ph.D., all in pharmaceutical sciences, all at the University of Tokyo.
Beyond his research, Inoue also had a passion for mountain biking. “Biking and research may seem very different,” Inoue said in an article in 2007. “But both require you to be focused, patient and determined to be successful. Each offers different rewards, but they are equally enjoyable to me.”
The article, “Beakers and Bikes,” appeared in the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation’s Legacy magazine. Inoue spent two years as a postdoc at the Noble Foundation, having been guided there by UC Davis Professor Emeritus Eric Conn, who had met Inoue at a research conference and became his mentor.
Inoue moved from the Noble Foundation to Michigan State University for more postdoctoral work before joining UC Davis.
Tributes and memories
Kentaro had the rare and admirable qualities of scholarship, warmth and wit. His willingness to work hard, think clearly, and teach well made him a most valuable member of the department and our colleague. Our condolences to his wife, family and lab members will not make up for their loss and ours. Our recollections remind us all of how unique and valued he is.
– Ann Powell, professional researcher emerita, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Kentaro was a very smart man, but very kind and gentle. He had a great sense of humor. He regularly contributed to the Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops Short Course, providing a carefully-crafted overview of a complex topic (plant pigments) that was understandable to the lay audience and delivered in an engaging fashion with heaps of dry humor. He will be missed as a person and as a valuable contributor.
— Beth Mitcham, faculty member, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Kentaro was a special colleague. He was an excellent scientist, equally patient with students and professors, dedicated to his job, our graduate programs, and to the pursuit of science. His collegiality, dry humor and interactivity was greatly appreciated and made him highly effective. I will miss him as a person and as a colleague.
— Luca Comai, Plant Biology and Genome Center, University of California Davis
Kentaro once told my students that they should call him uncle because I was his academic sister. I told them that he used to make fun of me being his academic mother. Thereafter, they shouted “Uncle Kentaro” whenever they saw him, partly to get even with him but mostly to express their happiness at seeing him again. “Uncle Kentaro” made my students feel like there was a family member in the intimidating atmosphere of an international conference, but he also read and discussed their posters with the highest scrutiny.
Although I am indeed older, I was the one asking him to read my manuscripts and counted on him to fill my knowledge gaps in biochemistry. He always replied immediately, as if there were no time difference between Davis and Taipei. I thought the reason why we could speak together so amiably was because our academic paths overlapped considerably and due to our similar cultural roots, but I quickly realized that he made everyone feel that way.
I clearly remember the first day he took me to their department office during my sabbatical at his lab. I was so amused to see how all the administrative staff not just liked, but simply adored him. Everyone that met him felt the same way and nobody has words to describe our loss and sadness.
— Hsou-min Li, professor/distinguished research fellow, Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
I will remember Kentaro for his sense of humor, wisdom and compassion. We met at the Postharvest Technology Short Course a few years ago where he gave a lecture each year and became friends. He also had a house in Davis around the corner from me and frequently would bump into each other on the greenbelt.
He will be missed. Condolences to his wife and family and thanks for allowing us to be a part of his short life.
— Penny Stockdale, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Kentaro possessed a rare combination of generosity of spirit, seriousness of purpose, and puckish sense of humor. The combination of the last two traits meant that I always had to be on my toes when talking with Kentaro, asking myself what he really meant by that last remark. And that first trait meant that he would always do whatever he could to help out a friend or colleague or student in need.
I’m so saddened by Kentaro’s death; I already miss him tremendously.
— Stacey Harmer, professor, Department of Plant Biology, UC Davis
I am deeply saddened by the loss of a dear friend and colleague, Kentaro Inoue. Some years ago we teamed up to work on the MEP and carotene pathways in citrus peels. Kentaro’s contributions were insightful and brilliant. He went on to characterize the re-greening disorder of Valencia oranges, coming up with ingenious assays. He was able to demonstrate the de-greening and re-greening process with detached citrus peels much to the delight of the citrus industry.
I always enjoyed his presentations that were well illustrated, easily understandable, and sprinkled with his unique brand of humor. He was a great plant biochemist, a dedicated teacher, a gracious colleague, and a caring friend who will be dearly missed.
— Abhaya Dandekar, professor, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Kentaro’s previous office was opposite Cal Qualset’s and my office. I used to observe his coming on his bike, and with one deft movement carry his expensive racing bike on his shoulder up the steps to his office. When I had a puncture on my own bike he helped me mend it and showed me the ropes on how to do it, and lent me his tools. Thereafter I used to mend my own punctures.
When I met him in the corridors thereafter he would always give me a nod. I did not see him that often after he moved his office to the second floor. I will miss him.
— Ardeshir (“Adi”) Damania, researcher, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Although, I did not know Kentaro well, I was fortunate enough to travel with him for a conference at the University of Tokyo. Then I learned how incredibly funny and witty he was. During his talk, I could hardly contain myself. Unfortunately, his Japanese colleagues did not get or react to the humor. Kentaro and I had a good laugh over the tough audience after his presentation.
— Allen Van Deynze, researcher, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Working in the same building as Kentaro, I could never pass him in the hallway or see him in our office without receiving a mischievous grin or him teasing me about something. Sometimes I wasn’t sure whether he was being serious or kidding around — like the time when there was water leaking in his lab (which was located right above the IT office).
He had me come upstairs with him to “supposedly” try to find the leak. It was obvious that it was coming from under a sink, and when I pointed it out, he looked at me with a straight face, then cracked a grin. It was then that I realized he was getting me back for teasing him about a previous leak …
I’m thankful to have known Kentaro and will always miss his smiling face and sense of humor.
— Lauri Brandeberry, webmaster, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
This news of Kentaro Inoue is so sad and difficult to accept. Kentaro was a great person and a wonderful friend. I’m so fortunate to have overlapped with him in Ken Keegstra’s lab in the Plant Research Lab at Michigan State University. I have many fond memories of our interactions and Kentaro’s humorous ways. I truly will miss him.
— Aaron Liepman, professor, Eastern Michigan University
Kentaro’s first office on the UC Davis campus was two doors down from mine, in Wickson Hall. One afternoon I happened to come to the office with my special needs adult daughter, and introduced her to Kentaro. In her simplistic view of the world, she asked Kentaro if he spoke Spanish (perhaps because his skin was brown and his hair was black).
He replied, “No, I’m French!” I burst out laughing, and for many years afterwards, I teased him about being French. He had a wonderful sense of quirky humor, often delivered with such a straight face that it would take a moment to realize that what he had said was a joke.
Kentaro cared very deeply about the impact he was making in the lives of others. He would ask me for feedback on the courses he taught in various Postharvest Technology Center workshops and short courses, and he felt badly when initially his reviews were not quite as high as he would have liked. He worked hard to translate complex topics so they could be understood by most course participants and those efforts were recognized and appreciated.
— Mary Reed, office manager (retired), Postharvest Technology Center, UC Davis
When Kentaro first introduced himself to me, he asked me to forgive his heavy Oklahoman accent (Kentaro Inoue was from Japan.) He started every meeting with a joke and his sense of humor put everyone at ease.
As the chair of the Plant Biology Graduate Group, he benefitted graduate students more than we knew. His unassuming nature and approachability made him a favorite among faculty, staff, and especially graduate students.
I am lucky to have met such a wonderful person and I will miss him very much. He was truly one of a kind.
— Joseph Edwards, Ph.D. candidate (Sundaresan lab), Plant Biology Graduate Group, UC Davis
I work down the hall from Kentaro and his lab. I didn’t speak to him every day but his presence was always felt. We’d nod at each other as we passed in the hall, and sometimes he’d teasingly remind me that is was my “destiny” that brought me here.
But before that, in my first year of grad school, I worked in his lab during a five-week rotation. While I ultimately did not join his lab, I credit him with introducing me to one of my closest friends in grad school. We became friends because he encouraged us to work together and made sure we asked questions of each other in lab meetings. He made it a point (sometimes to an annoying extent) to have every voice heard whether it be in class or the lab. I needed that kind of push during my first year especially.
He loved hearing ideas from his students, but most of all I think he loved questions. Which he would absolutely, positively never just answer himself. He’d push you to find the answer on your own while chuckling to himself over your rambling. More so than most professors, he’d let you trip over yourself for what felt like an excruciatingly long time to find a probably wrong-but-close answer before he’d take the reins and steer you towards the correct one.
He was tough, but I always felt I had ownership over what I learned from him because he made me work for it. He wanted to see people think. Hard. I’m going to miss knowing he’s right down the hall.
— Destiny J. Davis, Ph.D. candidate (Drakakaki lab), Plant Biology Graduate Group, UC Davis
Kentaro liked to tease me that I was older than he was. I think it was because I had more grey hair than he did. It took me a while to figure out he was two months older than me, so then I got to tease him.
He was a great person to work with and I know all of the IT staff appreciated his sense of humor. I will miss his smiling face around our building.
— Rob Kerner, IT manager, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Kentaro was the first faculty member of UC Davis to contact me, letting me know I had been accepted into the Plant Biology Graduate Group. Eventually I moved to Davis and met him in person. I immediately recognized his sharp wit and funny jokes. As my time at UC Davis continued he would always make me laugh with his dry and cryptic manner, sprinkled with a dose of self-deprecating humor.
“Why are leaves green?” He would ask. “They are green because they are red. To be green you have to be red. Otherwise your leaves will turn white.” He would then beam his big smile at how elegant photosynthesis is.
That was his way — funny, inquisitive, and promoting critical thought. He gave me many happy memories between chuckling to his intros and jokes.
You will be deeply missed Kentaro, and thanks for teaching us all to see all the colors within the green.
— Jason Carter, Ph.D. student, Plant Biology Graduate Group, UC Davis
Kentaro was one of those rare individuals that brought energy and joy to everyone he interacted with. He was an excellent scientist, mentor, friend and an exceptionally helpful and compassionate individual.
I will never forget our Kentaro.
— Pamela Ronald, professor, Department of Plant Pathology, UC Davis
I have never known or worked with someone so dedicated to ensuring his/her students would be successful in the future. He relentlessly pushed us to be the best scientists we could be, and I am grateful to have worked with him for over two years.
— Lucas McKinnon, Ph.D. candidate, Inoue lab, UC Davis
He was the chair of the program when I got accepted and I feel lucky I could count on his support during the beginning of my Ph.D. I am from Brazil and everything was new, challenging, and exciting, but also scary for me.
At the end of orientation, Professor Kentaro asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was excited but definitely scared and worried if I could accomplish all of those requirements. He looked at me, and I will never forget what he said: “Cintia, if you are here, if we chose you to be part of the program, it is because we believe you can.” I never forgot that and since then every time I struggle with classes or in the lab with my experiments I remember his words and they make me feel stronger to move on.
— Cintia Sagawa, Ph.D. student, Plant Biology Graduate Group, UC Davis
It was 7 a.m. and my alarm went off. But what really drove out my drowsiness was the news that Kentaro passed away. I am deeply shocked and saddened by his death.
When I visited Davis for recruitment, Kentaro was the chair of the Plant Biology Graduate Group. Each recruit had a 15-minute interview with him. During the interview, he asked me, “What are some unique aspects that you can bring to UC Davis?”
I wasn’t sure what to answer, so I said “Err…I bring cultural diversity. I speak three languages: Cantonese, Mandarin and English.” I knew my first answer would not satisfy him, but I was still saying it to buy time for thinking.
Kentaro said, “Yeah, I’m asking about what you can bring for the science.”
I answered, “I’m interested in integration of development and biochemistry. I don’t think anyone is researching about this topic.” Kentaro smiled. The experience was a bit scary, but I deeply appreciated Kentaro’s service as the graduate group chair.
I’ll always remember his passion in science, his humor and his dedication to education.
— Chenxin Li, Plant Biology Graduate Group, UC Davis
“Why is an Orange, orange?” Kentaro opened his talk at the annual Plant Sciences retreat. He went on to give a very entertaining talk. I was shocked. Was this the same boss that discouraged me from using humor in my own talks? Now, looking back with much more experience I can see what a benefit it was. And how thoroughly and in so many ways, my academic life was shaped by Kentaro’s expertise and training philosophy. I left his lab and became a novice postdoc with a more diverse set of training than anyone else I came in contact with. Because Kentaro deeply believed in the benefit of training his students to take on anything. And to handle anything.
I remember that before one meeting, I was working 12-hour days every day for a month, including weekends. But I was never in the lab before Kentaro was at his desk. He led by example.
With the long days of lab work and the seriousness about it, there were still funny moments. After our first publication, for example. Kentaro was ordering hard copies and wanted to know if 15 copies were enough for me. I was mystified. A hard copy? Why would I want that? I told him that whatever number of copies he considered appropriate would be fine since I assumed most people would find the publication online. Apparently, that made him feel very old…
I’m sure Kentaro was and has been many things to many people. To me, he was a great mentor, a good boss, and I hope, a good friend. A friend whose loss I feel acutely.
— Rebecca Roston, Biochemistry Dept., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Send updates to Ann Filmer, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis, email@example.com