In the forward of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s memoir “One Voice,” former Vice President Al Gore wrote: “Every time our nation has needed Daniel Akaka, he’s been there. He defended our nation in World War II. He protected our natural resources every chance he got. He stood up for underserved and underrepresented communities in all parts of the country time and time again. And he spent decades making each day a bit better for the people he represented and loves.”
Following are nā hali‘a aloha – cherished memories – of the late Daniel K. Akaka from others who were blessed to have known him: one as a music kumu, another as a family member, and the other as a colleague and friend.
Study Hall Supervisor
KS Kapālama High School
“I knew Uncle Danny Akaka all of my life. I was raised in Kawaiaha‘o Church from birth. The Akaka ‘ohana had been members from time immemorial because my mom was a church member from the late 1920s until her death in 1990.
“I attended Kamehameha Schools from grades three through 12. Uncle Danny was my music teacher in prep school. He was so ‘olu‘olu and kind to us. He never raised his voice nor did he scold us. We learned a lot of church songs that he grew up with at Kawaiaha‘o Church and also Hawaiian songs.
“My parents died on the same day, January 1, 1990. In a few days we received a loving call from him about the loss of my parents. On the day of their funeral, Uncle Danny arrived in Honolulu and came straight to the burial at Hawaiian Memorial Cemetery. We were so happy and joyful because he took the time to come and comfort my family. He was a very loving and caring person.”
Ho‘okahua Cultural Vibrancy Group
“How are we related, you might wonder? Uncle Danny was a first cousin to my grandfather. Their fathers were brothers. So that makes him my first cousin, twice removed.
“As a young boy growing up on Maui, I can recall the first time I met him at the Hawaiian Homes community center in Paukūkalo, Maui. It was in the early 1970s. He had come to Maui to campaign for office as he was seeking a seat in Congress as a U.S. Representative.
“Our family went to hear him speak. Afterward, I was introduced to Uncle Danny by my father who told him that I was a smart kid and that one day I wanted to be a Hawaiian leader like him! While I was excited to meet a prominent member of our Akaka family, I was surprised that my dad had told him that about me! I really don’t recall ever expressing that ambition to him. However, Uncle Danny shook my hand and said something to the effect that one day, I probably would become a great leader.
“His words always remained with me through the trials of my childhood. As an adult, I came to know Uncle Danny and the ʻohana more personally. During my time as director of education for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, I often would see Uncle Danny since OHA was a proponent of the Akaka Bill.
“In 2012, I received my M.Ed. from UH Mānoa and Uncle Danny was honored by the university with an honorary doctorate during the same commencement ceremony. I remember how proud and giddy we were backstage, realizing that we would be graduating together that day!
“A year later, shortly after Uncle Danny retired from the U.S. Congress, he called me while I was working here at KS. He told me how proud he was of me and all the good work that I was doing as an educator and contributor to our Hawaiian community.
“I was so humbled by his intimate commendation. I reminded him of our first meeting on Maui 40 years prior, when I was that little kid meeting my kupuna for the very first time. I thanked him for being my inspiration and for serving our people with aloha and dignity for so many years.”
Senior Director, Statewide Operations
Community Engagement and Resources Group
“I worked with Senator Akaka for 12 years, starting as an intern in Washington D.C. and ending as his senior executive assistant at his Honolulu office.
“It was a privilege working for such a kind, integral and humble statesman. Senator Akaka was a devoted public servant and family man, deeply rooted in his faith in Ke Akua.
“Senator Akaka taught me the importance of respecting people before politics. Whenever he met with someone, be it a constituent or high-ranking political or military figure, his greeting was always the same.
“In his raspy voice, he’d ask ‘Ehhhhhh, how you? And how’s the family?’ He was always genuinely interested in your response and had an amazing ability to recall names and family ties. He made people feel special, and valued their opinion.
“There were many days in which he would be in back-to-back meetings and be given lei wherever he went. At the end of the day, I would drive him home to Nuʻuanu. On the way, we would stop at the Akaka family cemetery in Pauoa to place the lei he received on the gravestones of his parents, siblings and extended relatives. While there, we’d sit and talk about our shared love of Hawaiian music and Hawai‘i’s ever-changing landscape. I will miss our conversations. Senator was proud of his heritage and believed Hawai‘i has much to offer the world.
“Senator Akaka truly embodied what it means to ‘Live aloha.’ He will be missed, but his legacy lives on in the many hearts and minds of those he inspired. Aloha au ia ʻoe e Senator Akaka.”