Irene Hirano, head of the U.S.-Japan Council and widow of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, died Tuesday in Los Angeles following an extended illness, the council said Wednesday. She was 71.

Born in Los Angeles, she was also president and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in the city, a position she held for 20 years. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

She was president of the U.S.-Japan Council, a nonprofit group based in Washington that organizes exchange programs to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations, since its inception in 2008.

In January, she informed the organization of her decision to retire, citing "some personal considerations."

Her accomplishments include the launch of a public-private partnership to invest in the next generation of young Japanese and U.S. leaders, an initiative born out of U.S. support for Japan's recovery from the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Her husband, a Japanese-American Democrat from Hawaii and a World War II veteran, died in 2012 at the age of 88. He remains the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history, having served for nearly 50 years.