Obituary: Heitor Hissashi Nakagawa |

Obituary: Heitor Hissashi Nakagawa

Heitor Hissashi Nakagawa
Courtesy photo

April 19, 1955 — Feb. 26, 2022

Heitor Hissashi Nakagawa of Basalt, Colorado, said goodbye to a life that in his words was better lived for the “quality of years rather than quantity.”

God was feeling playful when he created this big-hearted man who resembled Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” and who behaved like that fun-loving Tiger from “Winnie the Pooh.” Being the eldest of five siblings, who were all born and raised in Brazil to Japanese parents, Heitor had a strong sense of responsibility to his family. But as a young man he also suffered from a case of wanderlust and was not going to give in to cultural pressures. Instead of following his parents’ plan for him to move to Japan to find work, he decided to grow his hair, listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and buy a motorcycle. He convinced his parents that surely he would learn English if he moved to America and eventually he’d make his way to Japan.

In his early twenties, with only a few dollars and fewer words of English, he arrived in Huntington Beach, California. His kids loved to hear the story of how he only ate hot dogs in those first weeks because of his limited language skills, and probably because it was all he could afford. He spent several years washing dishes and climbing the ranks in several Japanese restaurants in Huntington Beach before he got a wild hair and rode to Aspen on his Gold Wing motorcycle. Like many people who ended up making this valley their home, he only intended to stay and work for a season. But he stayed and worked at Takah Sushi in Aspen for years.

When he grew tired of the restaurant scene, he started working for himself as a gardener and landscaper. During the first years in Aspen he had a small client base and kept practicing his English by religiously watching the late-night shows “M.A.S.H.” and “Cheers,” while enjoying a big bowl of Frosted Flakes. He also taught himself how to ski, not caring that he only had his Levi jeans and some old gear he probably scored next to a dumpster.

His staunch work ethic and can-do attitude was something that quickly gained him many more clients. By 1986 both Heitor and his first wife tirelessly ran a business that became very profitable. He soon had to hire more people to help run the Nakagawa’s House Maintenance Service. He convinced his youngest brother, Satoshi, and best friend, Ademar, to move to Aspen from Brazil to help run the company. When Heitor was not buzzing around town snow plowing the roads and driveways in Aspen, or moving rocks and dirt in his skid-steer loader (his happy place), he was always there helping relatives and friends in any way he could. He spent a lot of time helping the immigrant community find a foothold in this valley by providing jobs, meals and housing, or helping many through the complicated process of establishing residency. You could always find Heitor wearing his bucket hat, or making his famous chicken on his charcoal grill, all while joking in one of four languages he spoke. He had no problem dancing like a fool in public, singing loudly no matter how off tune, and sharing his good tequila with everyone. He had a soft spot for babies and children, always doting on not just his grand kids, but all the children he met.

His own children loved him dearly, but sometimes they wanted to wring his neck when he’d say outrageously absurd things, mainly just to get a reaction out of them. For instance, when his daughters started dating, Heitor would make sure to take his samurai swords out of the display case to show the boys who came over. In his iconic gravelly voice he’d say, “In ancient Japan these swords cut off heads, so don’t touch my daughter.”

He loved this country with all his heart, often expressing how he felt he was more American than Japanese or Brazilian. He believed full-heartedly in the American Dream, always reminding his children that only in America could a young guy arrive with only a few dollars then move to Aspen, grow a business, employ dozens of people, buy multiple properties in the Roaring Fork Valley and abroad. He was forever grateful to all his clients in this valley, his hard working employees who he always treated like family, and this country that he felt gave him every opportunity to live a big, wonderful life.

Heitor is survived by his loving wife, Marisol; daughters Judith Ritschard (Nakagawa), Yury Nakagawa, Jady Nakagawa, and Amy Nakagawa; sons Mike Nakagawa, Ira Nakagawa, Ian Nakagawa, Jimmy Nakagawa; mother, Yuriko Nakagawa; three brothers, one sister, best friend Ademar, and extended family everywhere. Heitor was a loving father, husband, brother, uncle, grandfather and friend to everyone.

A service is scheduled the Grace Church in Emma at 7 p.m. March 9. It’s okay if you’re late because Heitor was never on time either. To share a story or send your condolences please email No flowers please. What would have made Heitor the happiest is if you helped feed people who are in need. In honor of his generous spirit please consider making a donation to a food pantry like LiftUp.

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