GORO HOKAMA / 1928-2004
was a champion
for labor rights
Goro Hokama, who served for more than 40 years on the Maui County Council and as a defender of labor rights, died yesterday after a long bout with lung cancer.
Hokama, 75, held his seat on the Council for 41 years, serving 16 of those years as Council chairman. Family members said Hokama died at 11 a.m. yesterday in his daughter's home in Wailuku.
"He had a peaceful passing," said his son, Riki Hokama, who also now serves as a Maui County councilman. "Sen. (Daniel) Akaka called after midnight their time in D.C. to give his sympathies. ... We're very grateful of all the support for our family at this time."
Hokama began his government service in the territorial days along with Akaka, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and former Gov. George Ariyoshi. His long career on the County Council began in 1954, when the body was called the Board of Supervisors.
"That's tragic, absolutely tragic," former Maui Mayor Elmer Cravalho said about Hokama's death. "I've known Mr. Hokama since the '40s ... almost 60 years. He was an outstanding public servant and, more importantly to me, a very dear personal friend."
Hokama graduated from Lanai High School as the student body president, joined the Army in 1951, and then jumped into politics as soon as he got out in 1953.
Hokama was also a Dole Pineapple employee for 45 years until his retirement in 1991. During that time he was a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, where he wore many hats -- as a shop steward, negotiating committee member, and Maui Division representative.
"I've known Goro for about 30 years, and he's always been a leader," said Willie Kennison, ILWU Maui Division director. "And because he came from the working class, because he struggled, he knew how important it was for people to have jobs. Thank God I was sitting down when I heard he died because I loved Goro."
Hokama's role on Lanai and in Maui County was so well known that on April 12, 2001, the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink dedicated the Lanai City Post Office to be named after Hokama, as the Goro Hokama Post Office Building.
While a great honor, Riki Hokama said his father's life was his own reward.
"He was always grateful that the people of Maui County gave him 40 years of fulfilling his goals for a better Maui and better Lanai. ... He was always grateful for the people allowing him the chance to live his dreams."
Hokama's friends described him as "quiet but determined," a man who did what he felt was right, though it might have not been popular at the time.
"He was a fighter," said Kennison. "He would not back down. ... We used to argue but we never lost respect for one another because I knew what he wanted was the best for the people."
Cravalho remembered Hokama as "a good public servant, very forthright, unafraid, strong."
"He will be missed," Cravalho said.
Hokama is survived by his wife of 53 years, Kiwae Deguchi Hokama, his brothers Eisuke and Eiso, son Riki, daughter Joy Helle, and grandsons Jordan and Trent Helle. Funeral arrangements are pending.