Robert Rokuro Omata, a retired U.S. Public Health Service captain and National Institutes of Health administrator, died of lung cancer May 10 at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He was 90 and lived in Millersville.
Born and raised in Hanford, Calif., he was the son of a grocer and a homemaker who had immigrated from Japan many years earlier. When World War II began, he was in his senior year as a biology major at the University of California at Berkeley.
"He and his family were among 120,000 loyal American citizens of Japanese ancestry who were forced to evacuate their homes in several Western states and live in relocation camps," said his daughter, Donna R. Omata of Baltimore. He and his mother were sent to the Gila River Relocation Camp in Arizona.
"It was a very dramatic time for him. He was unmarried and was the youngest in the family," his daughter said. "He had older brothers with families who were sent to Arkansas for the war."
A brother, Goro, who was serving in the Army was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco and locked up. After proving his loyalty, he was later released and sent to Okinawa for continued military service. Another brother, Shiro, became a personal interpreter on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Dr. Omata's daughter said he soon contacted Quaker activists, of the National Japanese-American Student Relocation Committee, who arranged a scholarship for him to complete his final semester at Temple University in Philadelphia. He later received his degree from the University of California.
She said that her father "wanted to move forward" after the wartime internment experience. In recent years, he discussed the subject of Japanese internment in talks he gave at the Park School, University of Maryland Baltimore County and Anne Arundel Community College.
"He felt it was important that young people understood this period of history so that the denial of civil rights based solely on racial origin could not be repeated again," his daughter said.
After the war, he earned a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Minnesota.
In 1949, Dr. Omata relocated to Bethesda for an American Dental Association fellowship in oral microbiology at the National Institutes of Health. He then joined the U.S. Public Health Service as a commissioned officer. He remained there for 37 years and became the chief of International Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs within the Office of International Research, now the Fogarty International Center.
He also served three years at the NIH Pacific Office in the American Embassy in Tokyo.
"He was a scientific diplomat," his daughter said. "He helped gather doctors from all over the world who were the brightest minds in their fields. His efforts improved public health in the U.S. and also globally."
Family members said his efforts helped to advance medical research and clinical practices in the United States and abroad.
In 1974, he established six bilateral National Cancer Institute research programs between the United States and Japan, France, Italy, Germany, Egypt and Poland to speed the flow of medical information internationally,
Dr. Omata received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Public Health Service for his work.
Dr. Omata retired in 1985. He enjoyed cooking, traveling and fishing. He attended classes at Anne Arundel Community College and spent time at the Arnold Senior Center, where he took aerobic dance classes.
In 2009, Dr. Omata and his wife, Hiroko K. Omata, each received an honorary bachelor of humane letters degree awarded by the University of California and California State University to Japanese Americans whose college educations had been disrupted during World War II.
Services are private.
In addition to his wife of 62 years and his daughter, survivors include a son, Douglas M. Omata of Sun Prairie, Wis.; another daughter, Robin K. Omata of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandchildren.