Maui left an imprint on Sen. Daniel Inouye, whose mother and late first wife came from the Valley Isle, and in turn he left his mark on many aspects of the island's life.
Hawaii's senior senator, who died Monday at age 88, was credited with having a hand in the development of today's island economy, health and education. Leaders of the Maui Economic Development Board and the Maui Research & Technology Park, Maui Memorial Medical Center and University of Hawaii Maui College are among those who praised the senator's foresight and intelligence and offered their thanks to the man who brought millions of federal dollars to their projects and helped them become reality.
And although he was one of the most powerful leaders in the country, as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, those on Maui who got to know the World War II hero who lost an arm to the war reflected on his humbleness, gentleness and greatness.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, a member of the Watergate investigating committee, questions witness James McCord during the May 19, 1973, hearing on Capitol Hill. Inouye, the influential Democrat who broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, died Monday. He was 88.
AP file photo
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa compared Inouye to Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
"Senator Inouye has been probably the most tremendous asset any state would hope to have," he said Monday. "For Hawaii, he has been the protector, the provider and even the one who has represented virtually every economic segment of our community."
On Maui, Inouye had the foresight to help establish the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei, back the scientific ventures atop Haleakala and help Maui Memorial Medical Center serve the needs of the Maui County community, he said.
"He's just been tremendous for us," Arakawa said.
The Maui Research & Technology Park was an effort to diversify Maui's economy from one that was based predominantly on tourism and agriculture. He saw the development of the park in Kihei from its inception in the 1980s to the thriving campus it is today.
"He shared in our dreams to diversify and find new options and opportunities for our residents and students through our education and workforce efforts," said Jeanne Skog, president and chief executive officer of the Maui Economic Development Board, a nonprofit that partnered in the creation of the park. "He was such an inspiration for us."
The senator came aboard the project "when he saw what the business community was trying to do," she said. "Immediately, the first step was to create a place for tech to grow on Maui," she said. "And the senator embraced that immediately."
His efforts brought the Maui High Performance Computing Center and its supercomputer, the Joint Information Technology Center and the Pacific Disaster Center to the park, "some major anchoring activities that have national significance," said Skog, who had known Inouye since 1989.
"He inspired others to also give and invest in this future that we were collectively working on, and that meant an awful, awful lot of us," she said.
Inouye was able to work with those developing the research park, but he also enjoyed meeting with Maui's students.
"When he was around students, there was just so much joy in his interaction with them," said Skog. "That always struck me. Here's this individual, who at different times has the weight of the nation on him, yet they had his complete attention. In spite of the age difference, I know, that time inspired the kids as well."
Inouye was "at his best and so spirited" in August at MEDB's annual Ke Ala Hele Education Fund benefit dinner in Wailea, which was attended by more than 700 people and raised more than $330,000 for MEDB-led technology education programs.
"It's so hard to believe he's gone," she said. "He just always had this twinkle in his eye. He never lost his wit. He had so much dedication but was really just so personable and warm at the same time."
Inouye's support for Maui's economic diversification extended to the University of Hawaii Maui College, where he directed federal investments to such areas as astronomy research, workforce development initiatives and scholarships for Native Hawaiians.
"For UH-Maui College especially, he understood the importance of connecting 21st-century skills with economic and community development," Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto said. "The senator saw the need for a four-year degree-granting institution in Maui County and encouraged our development."
"Personally and professionally, he inspired possibilities for our state, county, college, faculty and students," said Sakamoto, who previously worked as an intern in Inouye's Washington, D.C., office. "It was a privilege to know him as a mentor and supporter of bold and effective solutions."
While supporting economic diversification, Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Monday that Inouye was supportive of the visitor industry "because he understood that that is our economic engine."
Vencl said Inouye was particularly helpful on transportation issues, appropriations for airports and the Maui Bus system, and helping to streamline visa issues for tourists visiting from China and South Korea.
"Obviously, it's a big loss for Maui and the state of Hawaii," she said while offering condolences. "He has done much for our community and the visitor industry, and we thank him for what he has done."
At Maui Memorial Medical Center, officials said Inouye helped them put together many important contacts, such as with Medicare, and facilitated a $20 million federal loan. Grants through his office assisted with a simulation and robotics laboratory at the hospital.
"We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by Senator Inouye's passing," said Wesley Lo, chief executive officer of Maui Memorial Medical Center in a statement. "The senator was not only an icon politically, somebody we all looked up to, but more importantly a friend to all of us. It is rare that you will meet somebody with such stature who was so well-grounded and remembers his roots and where he came from.
"There are few people with such greatness, yet who are full of humility and graciousness. He is a man whose values are something all of us from the state of Hawaii should aspire to."
Inouye's field representative in Maui County for more than 30 years, Ry Barbin, said that on a personal level Inouye was a "real genuine, gentle man."
He joked to Barbin that Maui was the island of his women. Inouye's mother, who was an orphan, lived in Puukolii before being taken to a Methodist orphanage on Oahu. His late wife, Margaret "Maggie" Awamura Inouye, was from Wailuku, Barbin said.
"I loved him. He was just a fascinating man to be around," said Barbin, who served as Inouye's one-man office in Maui County addressing residents' issues for the senator. "I cherish the time I had with him. . . . He was truly a historic figure for Hawaii.
"Hawaii has lost a giant. He served Hawaii selflessly for over a quarter century with honor, distinction and love for the aina."
Barbin said many people believed that Inouye was very partisan but said that was not true. He said that the senator would stick with his party during elections but was nonpartisan when the elections were over.
Members of Maui County's political community offered tributes to and recollections of Inouye as well.
Former Maui County mayor and former territorial legislator Elmer Cravalho remembered the young Inouye at the beginning of his long, illustrious political career. The two men were part of the rise of the Democratic Party, which in 1954 swept to power in the Territorial Legislature and has not relinquished control since.
"He had everything that would speak for success," Cravalho recalled.
Inouye was respectful, a good member of the Democratic Party, and he was elected majority leader his first year in the Territorial Legislature, Cravalho said.
"On a personal basis, he will be sorely missed," Cravalho said. "On an official basis, Hawaii will not receive the same level of follow-through that the senior senator always paid attention to."
Longtime Maui State Rep. Joe Souki called Inouye "irreplaceable."
He said Inouye was "a great personal friend" who has left a tangible legacy on Maui with the supercomputer and investments in astronomy research atop Haleakala.
"The senator is irreplaceable. We lost a great champion of the state of Hawaii," Souki said.
In a written statement, state Senate President Shan Tsutsui of Maui said: "Today, we have lost a true American hero. Senator Dan Inouye served the people of Hawaii and our country with great dignity and honor. A true statesman, his lifelong work has left an indelible mark on Hawaii, and he leaves behind a legacy that we will never forget."
Troy Hashimoto, Maui County Democratic Party corresponding secretary, said in a statement: "Although we are at a loss for words on the passing of our beloved senator, we have so much to celebrate. The members of the Maui County Democratic Party are truly appreciative of the senator's remarkable life and service to not only the people of Hawaii but our entire country. We will take his love for Hawaii nei and his commitment for a strong and democratic nation and share it with generations to come. We send a fond aloha to our senator on a job well done."
Besides the politics and the economics, Inouye was remembered as a war hero and for his work for veterans and in the community. He was a Medal of Honor recipient who lost his right arm in combat during World War II and was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Inouye, like the other WWII veterans, was someone to look up to and led by example, said Leonard Oka of the Maui's Sons and Daughters of Nisei Veterans.
"They have done so much to show us the way," Oka said.
"All future generations of Japanese-Americans will be forever indebted to Senator Inouye," he added. "Along with his fellow comrades in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service and 1399th Engineering Battalion, they volunteered for service to their country, fought valiantly and brought dignity and pride to their families back home. Upon their return to America, they continued their fight for equality.
"Senator Inouye continued his service to his country in the political arena where he again brought honor in everything he did. Living by the values of giri (sense of duty), hokori (pride), and meiyo (honor) he showed my generation, through living his life to its fullest, what we need to strive for as we follow in his and all of his generation's footsteps."
At a Memorial Day service in May at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, Inouye, who was a guest speaker, said he never forgot the price that some his fellow soldiers paid during WWII.
"I've always promised to do justice to their memory," Inouye said. "Like all of us, they too had their own dreams. They gave their lives so we could survive. The price of freedom and the price of honor comes at a supreme cost."
Inouye also encouraged welcoming home all soldiers with open arms and pushed to provide soldiers with the best equipment "so they can return home safely."
"He's not only for the nisei veterans, but all veterans," said Oka. "As a veteran (himself), his heart was always with all the veterans."
Hiroshi Arisumi, president of Maui 442nd Veterans Club and Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, said he was shocked to hear about the senator's death and had a hard time finding words to describe the man who did so much for veterans.
"I didn't know him in the war, but after the war, he used to come to Maui. He always came to say hello to me," Arisumi said.
Yuki Lei Sugimura, a longtime community organizer who was a friend and backer during Inouye's campaigns, said the senator "helped so many people . . . even people who didn't know him."
Inouye was a part of the Japanese-American story, she said. He was among the children of families who immigrated to Hawaii and were able to achieve great things in America.
"He achieved and opened doors for all of us, every one of us," she said.
In tears as she spoke to The Maui News, Sugimura said she was shocked to hear of Inouye's death. Even though he was in the hospital, she believed that he would be discharged soon as he had been in the past.
She said she just saw Inouye in the summer for his 88th birthday. He was in excellent health and talked about running for re-election.
"He's going to live forever in our hearts," she said. "He will never die."