It was early afternoon. The Advertiser newsroom was empty - some 20 desks and Underwood Touch 5 typewriters awaiting the next day's news.
George Chaplin, the executive editor who had been a major proponent of Hawaii statehood when he worked at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, walked over to Managing Editor Buck Buchwach's office. At Chaplin's side was a guy I vaguely remembered having seen in photographs.
"Hey, Ron, come over and meet Senator Daniel Inouye," Chaplin said.
Inouye looked over to see a young guy wearing longish hair and a dress shirt tucked into green, bell-bottom pants held up with a wide belt - obviously some sort of hippy malahini. The senator flashed a warmer-than-usual politician's smile.
Inouye had his right sleeve tucked into the pocket of a sports coat covering an aloha shirt. I'd seen him grasp Buchwach's right hand with his left in a smooth if slightly awkward grip. Without thinking about it, I stuck out my left hand. Inouye's smile grew a bit wider and he gave my hand an extra squeeze.
I don't remember what we said. I do remember Inouye making me feel I was the most important guy around. That, and him lighting a cigarette. In those days, most everyone smoked most everywhere, even in offices. George and Bucky didn't. I did.
The senator pulled a pack out a shirt pocket, shook a cigarette free. Before I could get out my lighter, Inouye had a book of matches in his hand. He adroitly flipped up the cover, bent a match over and struck it using his thumb. That's normally a two-handed operation.
I later found out how he had lost the arm and how important he was to Hawaii and the Democratic Party. He was an integral part of the John Burns-instigated 1954 revolution that made the corporation-backed Republican Party an also-ran.
As a representative of the Japanese community, Inouye was very important to Chaplin, who unabashedly courted AJAs to overcome lingering animosity toward The Advertiser. During World War II, 'Tiser publisher Lorrin Thurston wrote a front-page editorial criticizing "yard boys" for wanting fair wages. At the time, island workers were knocking down good money in military-support jobs - two or three times the stagnant pre-war salaries paid domestic employees.
This column has been kicking around in my head ever since I learned Danny was dead. I read newspaper accounts and watched the TV roll out tribute after tribute. A very few personal anecdotes popped up. I'm sure there are hundreds of Mauians who had more personal contact with the senator.
All of my contacts, besides that first meeting, was as a reporter covering Inouye's appearances - groundbreakings for major federal projects he had engineered and campaign speeches.
In one of those speeches, he said Lahaina was a kind of second home. His mother was an orphan taken in by a series of West Maui Hawaiian families. He said she taught him Hawaiian values, including how important it was to take pride in his accomplishments but tempering that pride with humility.
Throughout his career, Sen. Inouye avoided undue publicity. He did make sure Mauians knew about federal money headed our way with simple, factual press releases.
Among other capital projects, Danny was responsible for getting Department of Defense funds for a Kihei-Upcountry highway. That was at least a decade ago. A short notice in The Maui News two days after Inouye's death noted that the state was finally moving to make the highway a reality. Coincidence?
Inouye press releases were often one of the major Maui stories of the day. I voiced one of those stories in a report for Hawaii Public Radio. After the recording, the then-news director for HPR came on the line.
"We've decided the senator's name is pronounced in-OH-way," she said, probably relying on how East Coast broadcasters and some of the senator's colleagues said the name. I doubt the senator ever bothered to correct them.
"Tell that to Danny," I barked and slammed down the phone. I guess they got the message. They didn't complain the next time I pronounced his name the way everyone does in the islands.
Old-time Maui islanders all have stories about their associations with the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a gracious human being so very important to us all. My stories pale compared to the others but I had to write them.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.