Kaua’i pays honor to Patsy Mink

About 50 people attended a tribute to the late U.S. Representative Patsy Mink on the Kaua’i County Building lawn Friday morning, despite the fact that many island dignitaries were in Honolulu for an official ceremony at the State Capitol.

Those who made statements included State Senator Jonathan Chun; Bobby Franklin for Peggy Cha, Kaua’i Community College provost; representatives from the ILWU and the Carpenters’ Union; Judy Dalton of the Sierra Club; and Janice Bond, a longtime anti-smoking lobbyist and friend of Mink. Councilman Jimmy Tokioka and elections officer Ernie Pasion were also in attendance.

Those who attended the event also included workers on their lunch breaks, members of the Democratic Party, teachers and non-profit group volunteers.

Photographs of Mink, floral arrangements and lei and two torches decorated the small shrine that was set up on the front lawn of the Historic County Building from about 10 a.m. to sundown Friday.

“The purpose of this remembrance was not for the dignitaries. This was for the real people who Patsy represented – the regular, working class people who might want to pay their respects but couldn’t go to O’ahu,” said Anne Punohu, who organized the event. Punohu, a liberal Democrat, said she decided to assemble something after a meeting of the Kaua’i Democratic Party this Tuesday didn’t result in planning a memorial event for Mink on Kaua’i.

The tribute was nearly canceled after a small snafu involving liability and required county permits to set up on the lawn. But Punohu said she got other county staff to recognize that the lawn fronting the historic Kaua’i County Building was the appropriate place to hold such an event.

Patsy Takemoto Mink, 74, served as U.S. Representative for 12 terms, was the first woman elected from the state of Hawai’i and first woman of color or Asian ancestry elected to Congress. She died last Saturday of viral pneumonia that attacked her after contracting the chicken pox in August, and had been hospitalized for nearly a month.

Many said her legacy is that even after years working in government, she followed her convictions and always acted with passion for the people of Hawai’i and Americans.

A resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives said Mink was “one of the country’s leading voices for women’s rights, civil rights and working families and was devoted to raising living standards and providing economic and educational opportunity to all Americans.”

“Her legacy of improving the cause of human and woman’s rights shall be forever remembered as will her passionate efforts and fiery speeches in support of her noble goals,” state Representatives Ezra Kanoho, Bertha Kawakami and Hermina Morita said in a written statement.

“Her staunch stand on freedom of religion, and especially the defense of the separation of church and state, have been instrumental in keeping both government and faith strong in our state and our nation. She was a rare human being, firm in her values and convictions, capable, faithful to her conscience and to the people she represented. One cannot ask more of those who serve humanity,” said a message from Kaua’i’s Hindu monastery.

Ray Chuan, another council candidate, also spoke. He said he first met Mink in 1994 when California scientists were proposing to set up an underwater “boom box” and there was concern over the effects on whales. Mink was the first to bring up the issue in Congress, he said.

“She was a quiet, kindly, mother type. It just left me with a warm feeling,” he said about talking with her during a trip to Washington. D.C. In 1998, when Gov. Ben Cayetano visited Kaua’i, Mink took the podium and “turned into a tiger,” Chuan said.

“That’s where we met – at the gates of the Pacific Missile Range Facility,” said Hawaiian environmental activist Puanani Rogers, who was once arrested for protesting missile launches at the base in the late 1980s.

Mink brought the issue to attention on the floor of the Congress, and helped stop some launches, she said.

Mazie Hirono, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, sent six representatives from Kaua’i to Mink’s services on O’ahu, according to a Kaua’i spokesperson.

Kaua’i Democratic Party leader Clyde Kodani traveled to Honolulu to attend the ceremony. The County of Kaua’i sent a message to Mink’s family via her Honolulu office that was read at the ceremony, said Jenny Fujita, county public information officer. Mayor Kusaka, who is visiting Japan, was not available for a separate comment.

“It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Representative Patsy Mink. Representative Mink’s sincerity and strength of conviction will remain a part of her great legacy to our state,” read the announcement from Mayor Kusaka.

People came by the county lawn all afternoon to share stories and pay their respects to Rep. Mink. Many of them were those active in political affairs, including Peggy “Tutu Peggy” Field, a first-time, though unsuccessful, candidate for Kaua’i County Council.

Mink was elected in 1965 to the U.S. House of Representatives, in which she served six consecutive terms. In 1977, she ran unsuccessfully to the U.S. Senate, and won back her seat in the House in 1990.

“When she was getting back into politics, I called her up and told her she had to change her image- cut her hair, her style, and get into the modern vernacular,” Field said, “And she did. And she blew them away!”

“Her will to help was her outstanding legacy. If she thought it was worth fighting for, she’d try and help,” Field continued. “Patsy Mink represents what all people should aspire to: passion, conviction and tolerance,” Punohu said.

Long-time Mink supporters Audrey Loo donated flowers for the event and Mark Tanaka of Kauai Realty provided Mink campaign signs posted at the memorial.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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