THE FAMILY TREE
The Kanoho family posed at a recent event. From left, firefighters Solomon and Ruben; parents Pauline and Ezra; and police officers Paul and Ezra Jr.
Kanoho family dedicated to public service
Retiring state Rep. Ezra Kanoho says it's not the money or the accolades his four sons have earned that causes him to smile.
It's the men themselves -- hard-working and dedicated public servants that he and his wife of 55 years, Pauline, raised.
And while the four are grown and in various phases of distinguished civil service careers, it's apparently passed on to the younger generation, Kanoho's eight grandchildren, as well.
Kanoho likes to tell a story about Solomon, his third eldest son, who had a promising career as a banker before joining the Kauai Fire Department.
Solomon's work has been in the news quite a bit lately, because, as part of the Fire Department Search and Rescue Team, he spent weeks looking for the victims in the Ka Loko Dam tragedy as well as the mother and son that drowned in Anahola Bay.
But Kanoho mentions another time that truly shows the character of his kids.
One day, the elder Kanoho was driving along one of Kauai's highways when they came upon two men on the side of the road, next to what appeared to be a broken-down vehicle. Solomon, Rep. Kanoho said, forced his dad to pull around to make sure they were all right and to offer a hand if needed.
"I said, 'I'm so proud of you,'" Rep. Kanoho (D, Lihue) said. "Most people don't want to get involved; they're afraid to get involved."
But getting involved in difficult situations is what the four brothers do. Besides Kauai firefighter Solomon, the sons are Ruben, the eldest, a retired Honolulu firefighter; and Paul, the second oldest, and Ezra, the youngest, a lieutenant and sergeant, respectively, in the Kauai Police Department.
The four boys, like their dad, are Kamehameha Schools graduates, and they learned safety and civic responsibility at an early age.
Solomon said he always remembers his dad at their mother's large Sunday dinners, teaching the children and their cousins first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He also remembers his dad saying hello to everyone in their neighborhood in Kaimuki, where they spent much of their childhood.
Rep. Kanoho, who was a safety officer with Hawaiian Telephone before moving into upper management, impressed upon his kids compassion and humility, and he led by example.
"One thing that struck me, that I still remember: We were helping someone, and I asked him why," Solomon Kanoho said. "He said, 'Hopefully, if it was me or you or your mother, someone would do the same.'"
Rep. Kanoho, who will be 79 in September, was quick to say that his wife was the one that spent most of the time with the kids and is as big an impact on them as he is.
As for his civic duty, Kanoho credits his uncle, the pastor of the Hawaiian church in Hanalei and "a very unusual minister" who liked to paint and play pool but helped give him a solid spiritual foundation.
While all four kids are involved in their respective communities thanks to their father, Rep. Kanoho said he doesn't expect any of them to follow his lead into politics, at least not in the near future.
"Right now, I don't think they can afford it," he said. "They have families, responsibilities to take care of."
The elder Kanoho said he likely would not have entered the House himself had he not been appointed. And shortly after, he retired from the phone company after almost 40 years of service, giving him the opportunity to dedicate himself full-time to the job.
Now, after another 20 years in the House, it's time for him to really retire. Still, he'll continue his service with his church, the Rotary Club, where he's been a member for several decades, and other civic organizations, and maybe work on Hawaiian issues, as well.
"A big part in life is to make a meaningful contribution. Exactly what, I'm not sure," Rep. Kanoho said. "I want to be careful (not to) overextend myself and defeat the purpose of retirement."
Meanwhile, he gets to start spending time with his grandchildren, who are reaching milestones of their own. Rep. Kanoho said he planned to attend the graduation of Paul Kanoho's son, Kai, from Kapaa High School on Friday. It's his fourth grandchild to graduate from high school, he added.
Solomon Kanoho said he's already seen signs of the younger generation taking after their grandfather.
"It's rubbing off on our son," Solomon Kanoho said of his son Justin, 15, who's a junior at Kamehameha. "He's got that same way, that same humility.
"We can blame my father."