Maui County’s first lady, Ann Arakawa, the mother

As Maui County’s first lady, Ann Arakawa leads a very public life, often seen at her husband’s side as Mayor Alan Arakawa appears in parades, gives speeches and meets dignitaries.

But until now she has kept a part of her life private. And that is – as an adopted child – she has two mothers: her birth mother who died while giving life to her and the woman who adopted her, along with her husband.

“I appreciate both of them,” she said Saturday. “I appreciate my birth mother for giving me life. I appreciate my mother for taking excellent care of me.”

And she thanks her adoptive parents, the late Masaki and Suzuko Matsui of Kahului, for “helping me and giving me opportunities in life. They gave me an excellent education, a great start in life.”

The Matsuis loved children, but they couldn’t have any of their own. So, they adopted Ann.

Suzuko Matsui, a housewife who always made sure Ann had a snack when she got home from school, died in 1984. Masaki Matsui, a former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. Transportation Department supervisor, died in April.

She said she declined to disclose that she was adopted publicly until both her adoptive parents were deceased. She said she didn’t want to hurt their feelings. She learned she was adopted when she was in college.

Mrs. Arakawa was the youngest of eight children born in the Nishibayashi family.

Three of her siblings have died, but the four others – two brothers and two sisters – live on Maui, and she has close contact with them, she said.

“They’re my family,” she said. “I love them very much.”

Mrs. Arakawa said her mother was “very caring.”

“She loved children,” she said.

Often, Suzuko Matsui would baby-sit the children of relatives and friends. So her Kahului home was often filled with children, Mrs. Arakawa recalled.

“They became like her children,” she said.

Mrs. Arakawa said her mother passed on that love of children to her, along with a passion for education.

Although her mother only had an 8th-grade education, she stressed that learning was a priority.

“She always made sure I did my homework,” Mrs. Arakawa said. “That was priority No. 1. It carried me through my life.”

When asked what was one piece of advice that her mother gave her that she’ll never forget, Mrs. Arakawa said: “My mother always told me that I should get as much of an education as possible and that I should be able to support myself financially and take care of myself. I have followed that advice and I have emphasized that to my girls as well. It was an excellent piece of advice.”

Mrs. Arakawa took what she learned from her mother about being a strong woman and used it in her own parenting.

She said she taught her daughters, Jan Arakawa and Jodi (Arakawa) Arisumi, that they need to be able to take care of themselves and not depend on others.

“They need to be strong and independent, but also think about the welfare of others,” she said.

While her mother emphasized schoolwork and could be very protective of her daughter, Suzuko Matsui also took a keen interest in Ann as a person.

“She always sat down and talked to me,” she said, recalling the many conversations they had after the schoolday was finished.

Mrs. Arakawa credited both of her parents for molding her as a person.

“They always wanted to provide the best they could for me,” she said.

Later, the Matsuis helped the Arakawas raise their children.

“My mother was my baby sitter when my girls were very young, and after she died, my father took over caring for them after school until I got home from work,” she said. “He doted on our girls. He always took them for a snack after school, transported them to various lessons and kept a watchful eye on them until my husband and I got home from work.”

The Internet, Facebook and Twitter have changed lifestyles since Mrs. Arakawa was a young woman and mother, but she urges parents to have more personal interaction with their children.

“I would encourage moms to spend as much time as they can with their children and not rely only on these high-tech ways to keep their children occupied and entertained,” she said. “We need to spend as much time as we can with our children. We can never get back any lost time with them.”

She also encouraged reading to young children and encouraging an older child to read.

“In order to be successful in our lives, we need to be able to read and comprehend so many things. It is a crucial skill for survival in these times,” she said.

It is through her studying and her parents’ value in education that Mrs. Arakawa become a math educator at Maui Community College, now called the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Mrs. Arakawa started her career more than 30 years ago as a substitute teacher for the state Department of Education and then began working at the college when another teacher fell ill. She retired from the college in 2011.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at