HONOLULU — Those who knew Congressman Mark Takai say he was a passionate public servant and a loyal friend.
“I’m grateful to have known and worked with Mark for over a decade,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
She added that she had the “good fortune” of serving with Takai in the Hawaii State Legislature, in the Hawaii Army National Guard, and in Congress.
“With a servant’s heart, full of aloha, he dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawaii and our nation,” Gabbard said. “I saw firsthand that no matter where he was, he always kept his service to Hawaii’s people at the forefront of his actions.”
Takai died of pancreatic cancer at his home on Wednesday, surrounded by family. He was 49.
“Mark was always a fighter,” said President Barack Obama, who recorded a radio ad for Takai during his congressional campaign, in a statement.
“His relentless push for cancer research inspired countless Americans fighting the same battle as him. Simply put, our country is better off because of Mark’s contributions,” Obama added.
Born on Oahu, Takai served in the state House of Representatives for 20 years before he was elected to Congress, first winning his statehouse seat at age 27. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard for more than a decade and was deployed to the Middle East as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Congress, he sat on the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees.’
Takai was first diagnosed with cancer in October and initially expressed optimism that he would recover. But in May he announced he would not seek re-election after he learned the cancer had spread.
Hawaii Rep. Jimmy Tokioka said he had the opportunity to work with Takai for eight years in the state House and he remembers Takai as a passionate fighter for people’s rights.
“He had a wide reach of supporters and his passion and tenacity will be missed in Congress, and I know for the people of Hawaii,” Tokioka said. “He was a very, very great communicator, and he would often stand up at caucuses and voice his frustrations on things he thought were important for the people of Hawaii. I always respected and admired that about Mark.”
Hawaii Rep. Derek Kawakami also hailed Takai as a champion for Hawaii.
“It was an honor and a privilege to have had the opportunity to work alongside Congressman Takai,” Kawakami said. “His dedication to her (Hawaii’s) people will not be forgotten.”
Hawaii Rep. Dee Morikawa said she met Takai six years ago when she was elected.
“He sat next to me in the House chamber and helped me navigate through the session protocol,” Morikawa said. “He was the first colleague to adopt my words of support on a bill, and as a freshman legislator, I was thoroughly thrilled. He was my friend, my mentor, and my legislative inspiration. He will be missed, but his memory lives here in the State Capitol.”
Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser also met Takai while serving in the state Legislature, prior to Takai’s election to Congress.
“While I served in the Senate and he in the House, our paths crossed frequently. His contributions to our community over the years have been significant,” Hooser said.
Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said Takai was one of the most humble people he ever met.
“And he was completely dedicated to serving the community, whether through his military service, as a state representative or most recently representing Hawaii in the U.S. Congress,” Kollar said.
“In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a statement.
Takai is survived by his wife, Sami, and two young children, Matthew and Kaila. “The Takai family thanks the people of Hawaii for their support during this difficult time,” said a release by his office. His family requested privacy.
“This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “Throughout his life, he was all about serving the people of Hawaii. He gave so much, and had so much more yet to give.”
The Hawaii Office of Elections will likely hold a special election in November for a replacement to serve through the remainder of Takai’s term, which would have ended in January, spokeswoman Nedielyn Bueno said. In the same election, voters will also choose who will replace Takai for the two-year term starting in January, she said.
Former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who previously held Takai’s seat in Congress but left to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, is already running in the general election to replace Takai for the two-year term that starts in January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.