CORONADO — Yoshiko Emoto Schroff Tiffany was born Dec. 20, 1926 as the youngest daughter of a British Parsee father and a Japanese mother. She grew up with her five siblings in Suzurandai, just outside of Kobe, Japan.
Yoshi was 15 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Japanese government froze her father’s assets and confiscated the family’s iron fence and gates. They also painted her once lovely white stone home with black tar.
A prisoner of war camp was set up near the Schroff home. Allied civilian prisoners were kept there. At great personal risk Yoshi bartered the clothes off her back for black market food to smuggle in to the prisoners.
Yoshi fell in love with one of the American prisoners. They had a son. In 1947 she became one of 45,000 Japanese war brides entering the United States.
Yoshi was in for quite a shock when she arrived at her husband’s small farm in Pennsylvania. There was no indoor plumbing or hot running water. The floor sloped, the roof leaked, and you had to walk down a pathway past the hogs to get to the outhouse.
Her privileged youth in Japan had been filled with maids and nannies and the best education money could buy. That was no more. She found herself taking care of not just her baby, but her husband, and her husband’s father, his brother … and the pigs.
The excitement of a wartime romance rapidly became a thing of the past as well. Yoshi and her husband eventually went their separate ways, leaving her to fend for her young son.
“I believe in the divine law of adjustment,” she said when talking about the challenges she had faced, “and that has seen me through in many situations. I always seem to emerge stronger.”
The petite Japanese woman who spoke perfect French and British-laced English had no trouble meeting new friends and finding work.
Before long Yoshi remarried, this time to a Naval officer. Theirs was a romance of storybook proportions. She became Mrs. Emory Tiffany and they traveled the world together, ending up in Coronado with her son Frank Tiffany (CHS Class of ’64), who went on to serve as a decorated Green Beret corpsman in Vietnam, and later to practice medicine in San Diego.
Emory died after 16 blissful years together, but Yoshi decided to stay in Coronado, where the pleasant reminders of Navy life were everywhere.
She loved the Navy, and lived for many years in a small cottage one block from the beach, within earshot of Navy jets on their final approach to North Island.
“I would not change a single part of my life,” she said. “The wartime romance, the separation, finding Emory, struggling to make ends meet. I feel that I’ve experienced every facet of a full life.”
Until three years ago, she walked five miles a day, usually to the Navy Exchange or the Coronado Ferry Landing. She called her walker “my three-wheeled Jaguar,” and pushed it at a pace few could match.
She took gifts to the sailors at North Island’s main gate – when it was hot she took them fans, when winter set in she took them heaters. “They are my boys and girls, like my own children,” she would say. The sailors presented her with a certificate naming Yoshi “Honorary Police Officer,” complete with her own badge.
In 2011 North Island base commander Yancy Lindsey, Base executive officer Gary Mayes, city councilman Mike Woiwode and Mayor Casey Tanaka honored Yoshi with a very special surprise.
They dedicated an ADA-accessible ramp named in her honor. Forty-five members of the base security detail were on hand for the ceremony, as well as the entire staff of the Navy Exchange. All turned out because of their love for Yoshi.
“Saying thank you is not enough,” said Lindsey of the many personal donations Yoshi had made to his staff and crew. Then, Yoshi, with help from Lindsey and Mayor Tanaka, joined in a ribbon cutting that officially dedicated the ramp in her name.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate this,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I just wanted to do something worthwhile for my boys and girls here at the Naval Base. You have given me much more than I ever hoped to give you.”
Her accolades were numerous. She rode in the Coronado Brewing Company Model T truck for the Coronado Christmas Parade, and could be seen annually sporting around town in antique race cars from the Coronado Speed Festival as a guest of the US Navy.
The driver was six decades her junior. As his foot engaged the starting bar the engine roared. Yoshi’s skinny little arms tried their best to wrap around his large frame, as neighbors gathered to watch this unusual sight.
Then, faster than you could say “little old lady from Pasadena,” the bike sped down Ocean Boulevard leaving only a faint trace of her perfume in the air.
Yoshi Tiffany became one of the more colorful strands in the tapestry of Coronado, and a friend to everyone she met. She passed away May 23 at the age of 90 from natural causes.
Services will be held, and announced here, in the near future. In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to donate “In Memory of Ms. Yoshi Tiffany,” to Pam Ludwig, c/o the Sunland Home Foundation, 691 Sparta Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024.