Friday, August 27, 2004

The casket carrying former U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong was carried in to the state Capitol atrium before a memorial service yesterday. Following the casket were family members.

‘A man
of Hawaii’

Fong is remembered for
what he did for the state

Even though she grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Deborah Naranjo never sat at the back of the bus. And any time passers-by questioned why the native Hawaiian was using the "white" water fountain or attending a "white-only" school, Naranjo would pull out a crinkled letter written to her by former U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong.

Today's services

After lying in state at the Capitol overnight, Fong's body was to be brought this morning to Nuuanu Memorial Park and Mortuary, where a private service was scheduled from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

A public service was set for 11:30 a.m.

Private burial was to follow in the afternoon at Hawaiian Memorial Park.

"It said we were allowed ... to sit in the front," she said. "We were allowed to use the 'white bathrooms.'"

Naranjo, of Ewa Beach, was one of some 500 who gathered at the Capitol last night to remember Fong -- a poor Kalihi kid who became one of Hawaii's foremost Republican leaders and a champion of civil rights legislation and immigration reform.

Fong, the first Asian American elected to the U.S. Senate, died Aug. 18. He was 97.

Admirers, friends and former colleagues started congregating at the Capitol just before 5 p.m., when Fong's closed casket was brought into the state Capitol atrium by an honor guard of Hawaii Air National Guardsmen. Fong served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Three of Fong's four children and other family members followed Fong's flag-draped casket.

His widow, Ellyn, did not attend the service because she was ill, said Maureen Lichter, spokeswoman for the family.

"I thought I'd come and say thank you," Naranjo said. "I just feel all tingly. We've got a loss of a century."

Florence Wong of Honolulu said she never got to meet Fong. But she was a loyal supporter, voting for him in every election that she could.

"I love that man," Wong said. "He did so much for Hawaii. He symbolized Hawaii."

Fong retired from the U.S. Senate in 1977 after 17 years of service. Earlier, he had spent 14 years in the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii, and was the city's deputy attorney from 1935 to 1938.

At the foot of the casket was a floral arrangement designed by Dutchie Kapu Saffery, who worked for 10 years as a secretary in Fong's Washington office. Fong served in the Senate from 1959, when Hawaii became a state, until 1976.

Nearby were four large wreaths, one each from the governor, the state Senate, the state House of Representatives and Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

The other flowers and foliage came from Sen. Fong's Plantation and Gardens, a 725-acre commercial botanical garden he opened near Kahaluu in Windward Oahu in 1988.

During the service the Kamehameha Schools Concert Glee Club offered several musical tributes, including "The Queen's Prayer" and "Hawaii Aloha," and Genoa Keawe sang "Ka'alaea," one of Fong's favorite songs.

Dignitaries at yesterday's services included both Democrats and Republicans, and several said Fong would have enjoyed the rare show of bipartisanship.

Family and friends, above, of the late U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong sat in the front row yesterday during a memorial service at the state Capitol atrium.

"Forget about political parties," said state House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo Valley-Kaimuki). "Hiram Fong was a man of Hawaii."

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki, Hawaii's first Republican member of the U.S. House, called Fong a diplomat, statesman and gentleman who came to be known as "an outstanding spokesman for us in the Pacific."

"I stand in the shadow of Sen. Fong," she said. "I cannot believe that Sen. Hiram has left us, because I feel he is with us tonight."

Fong's services were not hampered by a steady rain that fell on the open courtyard.

"If you were touched by the rain," Fong's son, Hiram Jr., told attendees, "you were touched by my dad."

Fong is the fifth person to lie in state at the current Capitol building. The others were Gov. John Burns, U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga, entertainer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.

U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case attended the services, but neither were included as speakers. The two stood side by side in front of Fong's casket last night and bowed their heads as if in prayer.

"He was the last real gentleman in American politics," said Abercrombie (D, urban Honolulu). "It was a privilege to know him."

Loved ones paid their respects, touching the casket, after the memorial service. Fong is the fifth person to lie in state at the current state Capitol building.

Fong, the seventh of 11 children, grew up in Kalihi shining shoes and selling newspapers on the street. He later went on to work his way through the University of Hawaii and Harvard University's law school.

Fong's humble beginnings have inspired Waimanalo resident Pansy Aila to accomplish more with less on several occasions, she said.

"He was a really hard-working person," Aila said. "He gave so much to life."

Nathan Kakalia, a Remington College student, also ducked into the Capitol yesterday to remember Fong before heading off to night classes.

"Where he grew up, I grew up -- the same place in Kalihi," Kakalia said as he sat on a bench facing the hearse that was to bring Fong's body to the courtyard. "He was just a special person. He's been around for so long. He left a lot of people behind."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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