Laughter and tears rippled through the standing-room-only crowd at a celebration of the life of Mayor Bryan Baptiste, yesterday, at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihu‘e.
Baptiste, 52, died June 22 at Wilcox Memorial Hospital after an apparent cardiac arrest at his home in Wailua Houselots.
He had heart bypass surgery on June 13 at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu after routine medical testing June 9. He was released from the hospital on Friday and returned to Kaua‘i on June 21.
Prior to the ceremony, mourners waited in line for at least an hour to pay their respects to Baptiste’s wife, Annette, and their four children: Brandon, Heather, Lauren and Preston.
Dignitaries statewide attended the celebration, including state Sen. Gary Hooser, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, Congressman Neil Abercrombie, state Reps. Mina Morita and James Tokioka, and Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona. Also in attendance were the Kaua‘i County Council, O‘ahu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Hawai‘i Mayor Harry Kim.
As the celebration was set to start, a procession of Kaua‘i’s finest — from police officers to firefighters, lifeguards to medics — snaked through the auditorium to pay their respects to the Baptiste family.
Master of Ceremonies Dickie Chang began the service by welcoming the crowd of several hundred residents on behalf of the Baptiste family and introduced the late mayor’s “bosom buddy,” Gov. Linda Lingle.
“When they made Bryan, they broke the mold,” Lingle said. “There will never be another one like him. He was a unique and special person.”
Baptiste was serious about kuleana, but would never take himself seriously, Lingle said.
“He would always find a way to bring in humor,” she said. “He was such a funny person, so mischievous.”
When in Honolulu, Baptiste would often stay with Lingle at her home. She shared a story about how she would leave early in the morning for a swim and when she would return a few hours later, Baptiste would be waking up.
“I was into physical fitness, he wasn’t,” Lingle said as the crowd laughed.
She said Baptiste would join her for a breakfast of granola, or “twigs,” as he would call it.
“But he always brought me Anahola Granola,” Lingle said with a laugh.
While recovering in Honolulu after his surgery, Lingle said Baptiste never had Kaua‘i far from his thoughts.
“He was always looking forward,” she said. “He spoke about what was going to come next and what he was working on for Kaua‘i. You were never out of his thoughts. I lost a good friend. The people of Kaua‘i lost a good friend, a person who thought of you always.”
Baptiste’s son, Brandon, said his dad loved everyone.
“He was always about me, my brother, my sisters, the people of Kaua‘i,” he said. “His dilemma was how can you make a decision without affecting someone else.”
Brandon Baptiste encouraged the crowd to take heart in how his father lived his life.
“See what lessons you can learn from him and how you can keep that alive,” he said.
Baptiste’s daughter, Lauren, told the crowd that not many people saw a certain side of her dad.
“Most knew the political side, not the lighthearted side like we did,” she said.
She went on to share stories about how her dad kept things light during his recent hospital visits. After his heart surgery, Baptiste had a tube in his mouth and was unable to speak.
“And you all know how much he loved to talk,” she said.
She went on to explain that because he was unable to talk back, her sister Heather teased him about painting his toenails and piercing his belly button.
“And all he could do was this,” she said, shaking her fist and making a slapping motion as the crowd laughed.
Lauren Baptiste explained her reasons for sharing stories about her father’s recent hospital visits.
“I told stories about his surgery because that’s the last moments that we got to be with him,” she said through tears. “Even on Father’s Day he didn’t care he was in the hospital as long as we were with him.”
Irma Baptiste Soares, Baptiste’s sister, said it was hard to find a word to describe her brother but the word “impetus” came the closest.
“It means what drives you, what motivates you,” Soares said. “He was really a force of nature.”
But in the end, Soares said, it came down to his heart.
“For Bryan, it was his heart,” she said. “His heart failed him, but he never failed his heart.”
Family friend Bernard Carvalho began his eulogy by reading the words inscribed on the urn that holds the mayor’s ashes.
“Inspirational, passionate, generous, visionary, dedicated, determined, compassionate,” Carvalho said. “To the people of Kaua‘i, he was known as the people’s mayor because he could relate to everyone.”
After giving a history of Baptiste’s professional life, Carvalho spoke of what the mayor was most passionate about.
“His efforts have focused on strengthening the people of Kaua‘i,” he said. “His greatest desire was to see Kaua‘i return to the days of his youth, where neighbors were family.”
Carvalho held up a plant that Baptiste gave out while campaigning for re-election in 2006.
“This simple plant was the mayor’s gift of aloha,” he said. “It’s a reminder of our responsibility to plant the seeds of aloha.”
After the eulogy, the crowd wiped away tears as they sang along to “United We Stand” and “Hawai‘i Aloha.”
“A fond aloha to a true mentor, our mayor, he was our friend,” Carvalho said. “Mayor Baptiste, we will love you and we will miss you.”
• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com