By Matt Schudel
Washington Post
January 17, 2010

For the past few days, I've been working on a Sunday Local Life feature of May Ishimoto, who died in November at 90. For 17 years, she was the wardrobe mistress of the American Ballet Theatre, commuting to New York from her home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

I met May twice because her daughter Mary Morris worked here at The Washington Post for many years as the editorial assistant in Book World. Mary may be the nicest person in the world, and after meeting her mother, it was easy to see where she got her kindness and warmth.

As I point out in the Local Life, May Ishimoto was born and raised in the United States, but during World War II she and her entire family -- except for a brother serving in the U.S. Army -- were shipped off to an internment camp for Japanese Americans. She was held there for two years. Her mother died within six months, and her father survived only a year or two after he was release. This historical reality -- the imprisonment of law-abiding U.S. citizens just because of their race -- remains one of the most shameful episodes in our history.

May at 19 in California

In any case, May Ishimoto emerged from her ordeal with a new husband and without apparent rancor. She had always been a skilled seamstress and, when her daughter Mary was taking ballet lessons as a girl, volunteered to make costumes for the class. Well, as often happens, one thing led to another, and May soon found herself making costumes for the new National Ballet in Washington in the early 1960s. When ballet stars came through town, she was enlisted to help with the costumes and sometimes made complete outfits for the likes of Dame Margot Fonteyn and other dancers. Read more... )