Palolo fire victimA petite woman with boundless energy that belied her 81 years, Lillian Herring is remembered by friends as someone devoted to good works.
Lillian Herring devoted much
of her life to serving others
at St. James Church
By Rod Ohira
"My husband says Lillian is an angel," said Jo Ann Takemoto, still reeling yesterday from the news of Herring's death in a New Year's Eve fire in Palolo Valley.
"It's difficult for me to think someone so good had to die that way. It was a needless tragedy."
The 10:27 p.m. fire at 2615 Myrtle St., which investigators said started in a carport cluttered with cardboard boxes and other combustibles 5 feet high, spread rapidly to Herring's house.
Her body was discovered in the living room at 10:36 a.m. yesterday. Some officials believe she may have died while trying to save her two dogs, also killed in the fire.
The Rev. Gerard Leicht, former pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Palolo, said that until recently Herring drove him every Sunday to St. Anthony-Kalihi Church for Latin Mass.
"I just couldn't believe such a tragic thing could happen to such a nice lady," Leicht said. "It must've been someone's fireworks that started it."
Police have classified the investigation as first-degree reckless endangering and manslaughter because of suspicion that errant aerial fireworks started the blaze. The estimated damage is $150,000 to the structure and $40,000 damage to contents.
Any fireworks evidence, however, was destroyed by the fire, police said.
Herring was not using fireworks, said Fire Capt. Richard Soo.
Wes Young, who lives across the street from Herring, said he saw what might have been an aerial burning near Herring's garage.
"I saw this glow, and it got so bright," Young said of the fire, which he attempted to put out with an extinguisher and then a garden hose.
"By the time I saw the front of the garage, it was engulfed in flames. It's really a tragic ending for an innocent individual."
Young, who met Herring when he moved to Myrtle Street in 1978, described his neighbor as a "friendly lady who was constantly doing things to help her church."
"I'd see her loading her car or daughter's truck all the time with newspapers for recycling," Young said. "She was always on the go."
Herring was well known to the Catholic Sisters of Sacred Hearts in Kaimuki, for whom she collected canned goods, unwanted clothing and newspapers for recycling.
Money earned from recycling, as well as the other items collected, were sent to Sacred Hearts missions in India and the Philippines.
"Helping the missions was something that made her happy," said Herring's longtime friend, Sister Jessie, of Sisters of Sacred Hearts.
"She was just someone that was so very caring and so thankful of people. She was always helping those less fortunate."
The Sacred Hearts sisters last saw Herring on Saturday at their annual Christmas luncheon.
Sister Jessie spoke yesterday to Herring's daughter Christine, who also lived in the Myrtle Street house but was out with a friend on New Year's Eve.
"I told her we don't understand why it's this way because only He has the answer," Sister Jessie said.
"Then Chris said to me, 'It was meant to be.' "
Herring was an active member of St. James Church in Palolo before its closing last year.
"I'm a convert, and Lilly was one of three people who really showed me how to be a Catholic," Takemoto said. "She just did good works without any heroics, just quietly doing things that weren't showy.
"At St. James, she'd cut flowers from her yard and decorate the church every Sunday. Anytime we had socials, she'd bring so much food we used to tell her enough already.
"When I think of Lilly, never would I think she was 81. She was so healthy and strong, always busy. And all what she did was for the church."
Herring was a longtime employee of Patti's Chinese Kitchen Ala Moana, friends said.
The Rev. Lane Akiona, pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Kaimuki, has known her for 30 years.
"I think of her as a woman so devoted to God that I know He's taking care of her," Akiona said.
"I told Chris that even though the death is tragic, good works will follow her mother and that now she'll be another angel praying for us."