Published on 05/31/18

UGA-Griffin food scientist remembered as compassionate visionary

By Sharon Dowdy

Family, friends and coworkers of Tommy Nakayama gathered at the University of Georgia Research and Education Garden in Griffin, Georgia, on Monday, May 21, to honor and remember the former head of the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology.

Nakayama passed away in 2012, at age 84, after earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees; serving the United States in World War II; marrying his wife and raising four children; working at Miller Brewing Company and serving on the University of California-Davis, University of Hawaii and UGA faculties. 

During the local remembrance ceremony, a portrait of Nakayama, painted by local artist Jennifer Edwards, was unveiled. The portrait will hang in the UGA Center for Food Safety on the university’s Griffin campus alongside images of food science department heads who preceded Nakayama. A ‘Thunderhead’ Japanese black pine tree was also planted in the garden in honor of Nakayama and his heritage.

The Nakayama family presented a gift to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) that made possible two scholarships as well as the portrait commission and the tree purchase. The family is in the process of setting up an endowment in Nakayama’s name to encourage the continuation of excellence in the food science department at UGA-Griffin.

Rakesh Singh, the current head of the food science and technology department, came to UGA 10 years after Nakayama’s retirement, but met him previously at an international meeting.

“Within 10 minutes of meeting him, I could see how charming he was,” Singh said. “I have been told the food science employees were the happiest during his tenure because of his leadership.”

Nakayama encouraged the faculty and staff to spent time together in leisure activities, like games of ping-pong during afternoon breaks, as a means of building camaraderie and team building.

Manjeet Chinnan, retired CAES food engineer, remembers Nakayama and his wife, Kathy, invited faculty to their home often.

“He was in a different class. He had us call him ‘Tommy,’” Chinnan said. “He was very compassionate and created a family atmosphere in our department.”

Brahm Verma, retired UGA agricultural engineer, worked closely with Nakayama and remembers him as a “deep and wise” person.

“To be wise, you have to have understanding. He did things in such a way that, when he taught you, you didn’t know you were being taught. And, when he led you, you didn’t know you were being led,” Verma said. “That’s a rare gift. I deeply regret the conversations we didn’t have.”

Richard Stinchcomb, retired UGA-Griffin research technician, recalled learning the process of converting wine grapes into wine after a short conversation with Nakayama that began: “Hey, Richard. Let me show you something.”

“He explained to me how Georgia actually grows wine grapes, and then went on to tell me how they are filtered. I learned more from that man in 15 minutes than I would have by reading any number of books,” Stinchcomb said.

Jerry Arkin, retired UGA-Griffin assistant provost, credits Nakayama for steering the campus to international work.

“He had an ability to see where we were today and where we should be tomorrow. He played a major role in globalizing the campus,” Arkin said.

Kay McWatters, retired UGA food scientist, recalled how Nakayama encouraged a team of UGA-Griffin food scientists to work with cowpeas and create life-sustaining products for people in underdeveloped countries.

“In the South, we call them black-eyed peas, not cowpeas. Dr. Nakayama brought in a scientist to teach us how to rehydrate cowpeas and process them into a flour, and so our international work began,” McWatters said. “Twenty years later, our team won an Institute of Food Technologists award for this work, and Tommy made that happen.”

Nakayama’s wife, sister, four children and some grandchildren attended the ceremony. His eldest son, Grant Nakayama, shared a few memories of what life was like growing up as a child of a food scientist.

“At home, we had many informal taste tests. Dad had the stomach of a vulture. He could eat anything and not get sick, which was perfect for a food scientist, Grant Nakayama said.

“We would go out into the fields with our dad to pick crops on hot days in fields that were filled with insects. This truly gave us an appreciation for agriculture.”

To learn more about making a gift to CAES, contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations by calling (706) 542-3390 or emailing

(More photos from the ceremony can be viewed at


Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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