Activist played leading role in shaping Hawaii water policy
Martha Black / 1912-2006
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When Martha Black became concerned about a public issue, she had a knack for drawing other people into the cause.
"If there were more like her, our democracy would be in better shape," said Honolulu attorney Bill Tam, who credited Black with a major role in shaping the system that now oversees use of the state's precious freshwater resources.
Black told her children recently, "Saying the correct thing at the right time makes all the difference in the world," according to her daughter Pamela Wood. "She said, 'If we had not been concerned Kawainui Marsh was overflowing into the streets, we would have never gotten involved, and as a result we now have a water commission and a water code.'"
Black, 93, an activist for 40 years, died last Thursday in Honolulu.
She helped organize the People's Water Conference in the 1980s after "the state Legislature was deadlocked for nine years, unable to come up with a water code" that voters called for in a 1978 constitutional amendment, Tam said.
Tam, a deputy state attorney general at the time of the 13 sessions of the People's Water Conference, said Black was key in organizing a pivotal 1987 conference at which the then-chairman of the California water resources board presented a "clearsighted, larger vision of what had to happen."
"I think it was a catalyst" that moved lawmakers, landholders, large agricultural interests and others to finally craft the water code, Tam said. "Martha was responsible for making that happen."
Honolulu City Clerk Denise DeCosta said: "Martha played an important part in our islands' history. One of the great achievements of her life was the series of People's Water Conferences.
"She had a gift for bringing people from very diverse groups to the table and do it in a civil manner. A lot from the conferences is reflected in the water code," said DeCosta, former communications director with the Board of Water Supply. "She was a treasure and a good friend."
A former art teacher at Iolani School, Black was active in the League of Women Voters, Hawaii's Thousand Friends, Common Cause, the Honolulu Community-Media Council and the American Association of University Women.
Richard Port, a friend, fellow activist and former chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said, "She was very active on a whole bunch of issues in the community -- clean government, open government, initiative, representative democracy. I can't think of anybody in the community who has contributed more than she has in the last 30 years."
Port said Black's latest environmental success was 2-acre Pawaa Park at the former Honolulu Police Department site on Young Street. At 88, Black organized a petition drive and lobbied the City Council to create the park. She visited it regularly and kept an eye on it from her nearby apartment in the One Kalakaua building.
Jean Williams, former director of the state Commission on the Status of Women, said Black worked in the 1980s toward pay equity for women, particularly state employees. "She encouraged many of us to go for higher degrees. She wanted women to keep achieving and was a model herself."
Black was born in Chicago.
She is survived by son Robert Jr., daughters Sabra Hoffman and Pamela Wood, sister Emmy Lou Griggs, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A family service will be held on the mainland. The family suggests memorial donations to Kaiser Foundation Hospital Palliative Care in care of Dr. Rae Seitz, 3288 Moanalua Road, Honolulu 96819; or to Save the Children, 800-728-3843.