Sanpete mourns loss of beloved family doctor

Dr. Dwight Inouye in his medical office in July 2020.


Sanpete mourns loss of

 beloved family doctor


By Suzanne Dean




GUNNISON—Funeral services were held on New Year’s Day for Dr. Dwight Inouye, 71, a family physician in the Gunnison Valley for 40 years; he also served 23 years on the South Sanpete School Board, served briefly as a Sanpete County commissioner and held numerous leadership roles in the Boy Scouts.

Inouye died Dec. 29, 2020 of complications related to COVID-19.

His death was announced about noon on Dec. 30, 2020 on the Gunnison Valley Hospital Facebook page. The announcement sparked an outpouring of tributes and condolences from throughout Sanpete County and beyond. By 10 p.m., 126 people had posted comments on the hospital’s Facebook page.

Mayor John Scott of Ephraim, wrote, “So, so sorry to hear of the passing of Dr Inouye. He was a pillar of the community and a loving husband and father. I grieve at the loss of his influence upon us.”

Mayor Cynthia DeGrey of Spring City posted, “He was a wonderful doctor and person. What a terrible loss to us all.”

Many of the comments came from patients who recalled Dr. Inouye delivering their babies, diagnosing an illness that had baffled specialists, being not just a physician but a friend to generations of their families, and even saving family members’ lives.

“This makes me heartbroken,” Jerilynn Miyatake of Herriman, formerly of Gunnison, wrote. “Not only was he a wonderful doctor, he was so loved by all of the community for all of his services to the Gunnison Valley.”

Jennifer Barton Bailey of Fountain Green wrote, “We are going to miss this wonderful man greatly. He has been such an amazing doctor and friend to our families for years.”

“We are devastated by the loss of this humble, great and caring doctor,” Kathy Bastian of Aurora, Sevier County, wrote. “He got us though so many challenges and crisis situations with so much kindness and love.”

Kim Christensen Gordon of Ephraim wrote, “We are so devastated to hear this. He has been such a great doctor and friend to generations of our family.”

Gordon said Dr. Inouye saved his son’s life when he performed an emergency C-section. “He delivered three of my children and two of my grandchildren. We will miss him immensely.”

Karen Prisbrey of Gunnison posted, “He was committed to his medical practice and to many activities in our community; to The Church of Jesus Christ where he served in many positions including bishop; [to] the Forth of July celebration at our city park; and especially to Boy Scouting programs.

“He was a great influence on the young men in our community. I recall his giving medical attention to youngsters on camping trips, including my son.”

Inouye was born Feb. 6, 1949 in Richfield to Charles and Bessie Inouye. Charles had grown up in California and Bessie in Washington. During World War II, both ended up in a Japanese internment camp near Cody, Wyo. That’s where they met and married.

After the war, his parents moved to Utah, first to Sevier County and later to the Gunnison Valley. Through hard work and with help from their seven children, including Dwight, they became successful farmers.

Dr. Inouye grew up in Sigurd, and attended Sigurd Elementary School and Richfield Junior High. During those years, he was introduced to Scouting and overcame his fear of water to earn the swimming merit badge.

After his father purchased a farm in Clarion, Dr. Inouye attended Gunnison Valley High School, where he showed an interest in medicine and a love of singing.

As a high school student, he was mentored by Dr. Lamar Stewart, one of the founders of Gunnison Valley Hospital. Stewart was also his Scout leader. He also loved traveling and singing with Scott Stewart, Randy Childs and Clyde Hendrickson in the Gunnison Valley High School Boys Senior Quartet.

Dr. Inouye attended Brigham Young University, took some time off from school to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kobe, Japan, and then returned to BYU where he met Jeannie Lew. They were married April 21, 1973 in the Manti Temple.

He attended medical school at the University of Utah, earned his M.D. in 1977, and did his residency in family medicine at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. In 1980, he fulfilled his dream of returning to the Gunnison Valley to practice. He constructed a white brick clinic east of the hospital.

His obituary said, “His focus was singular: to improve the lives of patients living in rural areas. He had the privilege of caring for patients from Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne and Emery counties, taking care of them at every stage of their lives and over multiple generations.”

A year after starting his medical practice, Dr. Inouye was elected to the South Sanpete School Board and served continuously until 2004.

Later, he recalled that when he first came on the school board, the school buildings in the district were in terrible shape, but the district didn’t have the money to fix them.

In 1995, the board met with then Gov. Michael Leavitt. The governor said he was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do.

The board’s next stop was the office of Dr. Scott Bean, a former superintendent in Sanpete County who had become state superintendent. Bean said he had $8 million left in a special loan fund and could loan it out at 1 percent interest. South Sanpete got the loan and fixed up the schools.

“That was one of the high points of my time on the board,” Dr. Inouye said later. “As I look back over the years, back then we had a hard time just housing students, now we have two modern high schools, two middle schools, and we have made a lot of improvements in our elementary schools.”

“Dwight has been one of our very best board members,” said Paul Gottfredson, who was business manager for the district at the time. “He and I squared off a time or two over some things. He’s hardheaded and so am I. But he always had the best interests of the school district at heart.”

In 2008, Inouye made a foray into county politics that may have contributed indirectly to Spencer Cox’s rise to the governorship.

In February 2008, Bruce Blackham of Gunnison, who had served several years on the Sanpete County Commission, resigned. Inouye was appointed to fill the balance of Blackham’s term, which ran through the end of the year.

A few months later, Inouye filed to run for the seat in the Republican primary—and so did Cox, who was mayor of Fairview at the time. There was no Democratic opposition, so a win in the primary pretty much assured winning the position.

On election night, the race was too close to call. Cox was ahead by 37 votes, but 68 absentee and provisional ballots were outstanding.

Cox and Inouye ended up splitting the outstanding ballots—each got 34. So Cox still won by a 37-point margin. After serving as a commissioner, Cox was elected to the Utah House of Representatives. During his first term in the Legislature, Gov. Gary Herbert appointed him as lieutenant governor. That set the stage for his reelection as lieutenant governor and his successful run for governor this year.

As a youth, Inouye became an Eagle Scout. Once settled in Gunnison, he took on a succession of roles in Scouting, including Scoutmaster, Eagle post advisor, Varsity Scout coach and district commissioner.

He played a key role in land acquisition and development of the 560-acre Mountain Dell Scout Ranch east of Mt. Pleasant.

He received the Chief Sowiett Award, the highest honor in Sanpete County Scouting, and the Silver Beaver, one of the highest awards given by the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts.

In 2012, he received the Outstanding Eagle Scout Award, given to the top 1 percent of Eagle Scouts in the nation. The award recognizes outstanding achievement at the local, state or regional level.

From 2012 to 2104, Dr. Inouye’s son, Jordan, also a doctor, took over his practice while he and Jeannie served a mission in Hong Kong.

Wade Anderson, a physician’s assistant, and Evlynn Peterson, clinic manager, helped keep Dr. Inouye’s practice going for decades.

Peterson said Inouye was making plans for retirement prior to contracting COVID. She said plans call for Dr. Bryce Barton, son of Doug and Marianne Barton of Manti, who is currently a resident at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, to take over the practice.

Inouye is survived by his wife, Jeannie, and eight children: Jared Lau Inouye (Karen Chia), Salt Lake City; Mika Kimli Inouye (Mark Lambert), Durango, Colo.; Dr. Jordan Lau Inouye (Natsume Inagaki), Springville; Kiren Mei Li Inouye (David Adams), Stanford, Calif.; Dr. Samuel Isaac Lau Inouye (Anne Park), Wasilla, Alaska; Sarah Suiying Inouye (Trent Mano), Orem; Seidi Meiying Inouye (Daniel Bennett), Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Aaron Lau Inouye (McKell Neff), Huntsville, Weber County.

He is also survived by 27 grandchildren and by his siblings, Warren, Elizabeth Ann and Charles. He was preceded in death by his parents and by his siblings, Charlotte and Dillon.

Burial was in the Memorial Mountain View Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights. A video of the services and burial is available on the Magleby Mortuary website. As of Monday, the video had been viewed more than 2,000 times.