Irene Hirano Inouye, the widow of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, died Tuesday following “an extended illness,” according to the U.S.-Japan Council.

She was 71 years old.

Hirano Inouye was the president of the U.S.-Japan Council, and had announced her decision to retire from the organization sometime this year.

She had been with USJC — a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship — since its inception in 2008.

Irene Hirano Inouye greeting a mourner at Sen. Dan Inouye’s memorial service at the Hawaii State Capitol rotunda, December 2012. At right is the senator’s longtime chief of staff, Jennifer Sabas. Civil Beat/Brian Tseng

“I know we are all devastated by this news,” Board Chair Phyllis Campbell wrote on the council’s website. “Irene was a singular figure in U.S.-Japan relations, respected by leaders on both sides of the Pacific as she carried out the mission of USJC. Since the founding of the Council, she infused the organization with her wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit, kept her pulse on every aspect of USJC while keeping her eye on the strategic vision, and managed to approach every challenge with fearlessness and determination.”

Hirano Inouye was also the former president and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

In 2008, she married Sen. Inouye, who was previously married to the late Maggie Inouye, who passed away in 2006. Sen. Inouye died in 2012.

Hirano Inouye was a frequent visitor to the islands, often for political events. At Sen. Inouye’s funeral at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater, President Barack Obama was among those paying their respects in person.

Her affiliations included serving as a board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, chair and trustee of the Ford Foundation, a member of the National Board Smithsonian Institution and, by presidential appointment, a member of President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

The USJC said plans for any future memorial service will be made and announced “after the current global COVID-19 crisis has ended.”

The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers or cards, donations be made in her name to the U.S.-Japan Council.

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