LAURINBURG Though she may not have been born and raised in the South, Keiko Fore was the epitome of Southern grace and hospitality, according to those who knew and loved her.
Fore, a treasured member of the community and longtime supporter of Scotland High School Marching Band, died on Tuesday. She was 85
Many natives of Scotland County either remember her as a genial and loving friend and neighbor, seamstress from McNair’s Department Store or as the lady who kept the band looking smart in their traditional Scottish kilts. They all say these jobs were done with love.
“Mother always said she finished all the sales at McNair’s because if a dress was too big or too little, Keiko could always make it do what it was supposed,” said Miriam Bounds whose mother, Margaret McInnis, worked with Fore at McNair’s. “She was loved by so many people in the community. She always had nice things to say about everybody. I never heard her say anything bad about anyone. When I think about her it makes me want to smile.”
Jamie Lawrence was a neighbor to the Fore family and developed a friendship with Keiko Fore’s son Chris.
“She was a sweet lady and always busy sewing. She rented the house next to hers as a shop, and Chris and I would hang out in the back room and play music. Chris played everything, and I played drums,” Lawrence said. “She would always tell us, ‘You boys have fun.’ She always had rice ready in the rice cooker, and we’d grab a bowl, pour some soy sauce on it and go.”
Lawrence recalls always seeing wedding dresses from her work hanging in the shop and thinking how beautiful they were. Little did he know that Fore would play a pivotal role in his own wedding a few years later.
“She even helped my bride-to-be and me out in a bind,” Lawrence said. “My wife had ordered the dress from JC Penny, and it came in a few days before the wedding. The top of it was a mess. There wasn’t time to send it back, and Beth was in tears and near panic. I took the dress to Keiko. She fixed the mess and had it back to me the day before the wedding. My bride looked gorgeous walking down the aisle, and we’re still grateful to her 27 years later.”
Fore, came to Laurinburg in the 1950s after she met and married James Fore who had been stationed in Japan following World War II.
Though she was a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, she did not harbor any ill will toward Americans and was as much a patriot as anyone born in the US.
For many years, Fore made the rounds to schools in Scotland County as a living history presentation where she would speak to history students about her experiences that fateful day.
A twelve-year-old Fore and her older sister Michiko had been at school away from their hometown of Oieto, Japan when the bomb was dropped. She would tell classes of the chaos and the nightmare of decimated buildings and burning bodies as she attempted to find Michiko and the two tried to make their way back home.
Her father was a Methodist minister, a rarity in Japan. According to Fore, her family and one other were the only Christians in her town. Her father taught her not to join in the Anti-American sentiment so prevalent after the war. He had no problem when Keiko met her American soldier,
James Fore. The two married in 1951 and came to Laurinburg a few years later.
Despite the fact that she harbored no ill will to Americans, America in the 1950s was not so welcoming to Japanese people. With her grace and charm and sense of warmth and hospitality she won people over.
When her children reached Scotland High School and joined the band, she immediately became a band booster in the most hands-on way. Fore was responsible for altering and mending the bands traditional full dress Scottish regalia and the uniforms that came before that.
Bert Owen former band director at Scotland believes Fore had been involved with the band for longer that he was.
“I came to Scotland High School in 1975 and pretty shortly after that when the first of her kids got into the band program she got involved with the band, and when I took another job in 1988, she was still very involved with the band,” Owen said. “I know she continued to support the band program even after her kids had graduated from Scotland High. She was certainly one of the consummate band boosters of my time.”
Owen recalls that before the band got the genuine dress regalia they had to make do with a cheap version of the kilt in the early 1970s.
“We had some that had been made by an American company that were just wretched excuses for imitations of the real thing. Several folks had tried to take them apart to alter them and could not get them back together. It was almost like Humpty Dumpty, until Keiko arrived on scene and master seamstress that she was, she had no trouble with those fake ones,” Owen said. “When the new ones came in she was the only person that could take one apart and put it back together.”
Fore would also treat her children’s teachers to a traditional Japanese meal inviting them into her home and sharing her culture with them throughout the evening. She would also perform traditional songs for them on a Japanese stringed instrument. Owen said the teachers were often reluctant to leave after dinner because Fore was so welcoming and such a fount of cultural information.
Meredith Bounds, a 1989 graduate of Scotland, remembers being amazed at Fore’s skill.
“I have distinct memories of her fitting us for uniforms and on band trips on the bus standing in the aisle of the bus with a needle and thread darning socks and putting buttons on,” Bounds said. “I have a hard time putting buttons on sitting still, but Keiko managed to do it on a moving bus full of noisy teenagers.”
Owen recollects Fore standing ready with her needle and thread during inspections before each game making sure her beloved marching band was presentable.
“I remember Liz Weeks and I would be walking down the line seeing how they were dressed and if their uniform was right, but if anybody had any little thing out of place, here’s Keiko with her needle and thread in place, ‘I fix,’ and she would take them off to the side and put them back in line not only looking right but with whatever the garment damage was repaired,” he said.
Fore will always be a part of the greater memory of the community and of her beloved fighting Scots.
“She literally was as much a part of Scotland High and the band program as any of those who walked on the field,” Bounds said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169