Crowning bittersweet for Miss Hawaii
Soon after being crowned Miss Hawaii earlier this month, Pilialoha Gaison smiled for photos, then looked up and thought of a single person before leaving the stage: her grandmother.
Gaison won the scholarship pageant June 9 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, five days after her grandmother Myra Marie Biondine of Kaneohe lost a nine-month battle with cancer. She was 74.
"I got the news when it was just before call time at rehearsal," Gaison, 22, said yesterday in an interview. "It was hard to get myself together and to concentrate."
Her grandmother had left the state to visit one of her favorite places, Las Vegas, and planned to return just in time to watch Gaison perform. But Biondine's condition suddenly worsened, and Gaison's family went to the mainland to stay at her bedside in an intensive care unit.
Biondine, who had stopped chemotherapy but looked healthy, died June 4.
Her death was especially difficult for Gaison because it happened less than six months after she lost her paternal grandfather on Jan. 10 -- the day she returned from a visit to the Philippines with Gov. Linda Lingle as part of the Filipino Centennial celebrations.
Gaison even thought about dropping out of the competition.
"I spent some alone time in my room and decided that, you know, this is something that she really wanted to see me succeed at, and she was looking forward to it," Gaison recalled. "At that point I knew I had a purpose for being there."
The Kamehameha Schools graduate went on to edge 13 contestants to take the title and advance to the Miss America Pageant, which is set for January. Gaison will fly to Maui this afternoon to perform for TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Looking back at it, Gaison believes her grandmother gave her the motivation she needed.
"It gave me more confidence; it boosted my drive to make sure that I was there to compete with intentions of giving my best shot," she said. "Thank God that I stuck with it, and I knew that she had a plan for me."
Biondine is survived by son Robert "Bobby" Jr., daughters Lana Kini and Donnalei Gaison, as well as mother Pilaris Robello, sister Francis Akana and brothers Fredrick and Cedric Robello. Visits will be at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Borthwick Mortuary, followed by a service at 11 a.m. Burial will be at 2 p.m. at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery.