This week, the Honorable Senator Daniel K. Inouye passed from complications related to respiratory illness. He was 88.
I won't pretend to know a lot about the senior senator from Hawaii. He was a peer to my grandparents and part of the "Greatest Generation." He is well known through the islands and the nation as a war hero and a staunch defender of the little guy. He served the State of Hawaii as a senator for 50 years and was a key member of the Democrat Revolution post-statehood.
What little I know of the senator comes from newspaper articles and stories people here tell about him. I met him once by pure chance while living back on the Big Island. I say that it was by pure chance because I happened to be working as a temporary hire at Hawaii Community College during a visit he made there.
The senator was visiting the campus to see the work completed under a program he had funded called the Rural Development Project. I was working with the coordinator at the time and was a part of the ceremony to welcome Sen. Inouye to Hilo and the college.
It was at this ceremony that the senator shared a story about his mother. She had been orphaned as a child on Maui and taken in for a time by a Hawaiian family. As you can imagine, there was little formal system to handle orphans back then and this family came forward and simply took her into their home. The senator went on to say that his mother impressed upon him how big an impact that was on her young life and that she expected him to fulfill a commitment to supporting the Hawaiian people.
This a story that I do not think everyone has heard. I don't think that it is the kind of story he is often called upon to tell except when folks are interviewing him about his personal life. His life away from World War II and from the politics of Washington D.C. He told it as a story that underscores a philosophical belief that he held and reveals a side to his own upbringing that he held close.
No one is perfect and Sen. Inouye had his own political ups and downs. However, I will always think about that story he told in my hometown and take to heart the message of living up to a lifetime commitment.
Mahalo e Sen. Inouye. You will be missed.