Susan Watanabe, Activist and Wife of SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director, Dies at 49

Courtesy Photo
Susan Watanabe

She was a writer, social worker and activist.

Susan Watanabe, a television writer, community leader and political activist, died Sunday of a brain tumor, her family announced Monday. She was 49.

Watanabe was a writer for the series Girlfriends and One-on-One, among other projects, and was known in Los Angeles for her support and fundraising for progressive candidates and causes, new authors, young professionals and community groups.

She is survived by her husband, David White, SAG-AFTRA national executive director; their 9-year-old daughter, Sophia; her parents, Don and Ida Watanabe; and her brother, Scott.

“It is with deep sadness and regret, as well as joy and gratitude, that we mark the life and transition of Susan Watanabe,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “Susan was a warrior with a gentle soul. David once said that Susan was the center of good in their universe. Her presence will be missed, but her brilliant light will never dim. On behalf of our membership and staff, I send our love and condolences to David and Sophia, their family and friends. Rest in peace and power Susan.”‚Äč

Watanabe supported the candidacies of numerous Los Angeles City Council members as well as African-American candidates in the Midwest and South. She served as president of two L.A. neighborhood associations in the communities in which she and her husband lived.

The couple married in 2000. “She was happiest when with family and friends,” said the family in a statement, “especially her daughter, Sophia, who, in her words, anchored her in the thrill and wonder of motherhood and deepened her commitment to make the world a safer and more humane village for the next generation.”

Born on Oct. 20, 1968, in Chicago, Watanabe attended the University of Illinois and then earned a graduate degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, where she was elected president of the student union.  

A memorial service will held on Saturday, Sept. 15, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Susan's Circle, a foundation established by friends in her name.