ILIMA PIIANAIA /
FORMER ISLE PUBLIC OFFICIAL
Planner shaped state through numerous roles
Ilima Anne Lai Jhun Piianaia, 59, former state and Hawaii County planner, public official and educator, died Oct. 18.
She was the daughter of the late Annie and Abraham Piianaia of Honolulu.
Ilima Piianaia was a "firefly," said Paula Helfrich, who heads the Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii. They met in 1970 when Helfrich was a flight attendant for Pan American Airways and Piianaia was returning from Tahiti. "We were instant friends," Helfrich said.
"In my view, she is one of those people who has done so much to change Hawaii. ... She was an awesome, neat, fun person."
Piianaia attended Kamehameha Schools, St. Andrew's Priory and Punahou School. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a master's degree from the University of Hawaii.
She was a Hawaii County planner under Raymond Suefuji, when Shunichi Kimura was Big Island mayor, and they developed the island's general plan.
Piianaia continued with Suefuji when he went to the Hawaii Community Development Authority as executive director. They worked on the Kakaako Improvement District, the first HCDA project, and another community plan.
She also lectured in geography and planning at UH from 1980 to 1984.
Piianaia administered the Task Force on the Hawaiian Homes Commission from 1982 to 1983, then was appointed Hawaii County deputy planning director under then-Mayor Dante Carpenter.
She was appointed by former Gov. John Waihee as director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands -- a position her father once held -- and later headed his Office of International Relations and Affairs. After that, she served as state Department of Agriculture deputy director.
Piianaia returned briefly to UH as a geography lecturer, then retired from work and limited her social activities to care for her mother and father.
She joined her brother, Norman, and his wife Nancy, on a trip to Paris about four years ago. "After all her years complaining about the French in Tahiti, I think she felt quite at home in Paris, rattling away in her 'Tahitian French' and enjoying the carefree French attitude toward smoking and drinking wine -- mainly no attitude but to enjoy life," her brother said.
Helfrich said she saw Ilima often when she lived on the Big Island. "It was the early days of the Hawaiian music renaissance. She was involved in a lot of cultural issues. She was so much fun to be around -- funny, articulate and irreverent."
When she headed the Office of International Relations and Affairs, Helfrich said she was running the Military Affairs Council for the state Chamber of Commerce and they went to many protocol functions. "She was so beautiful. She just lit the place up. She really represented the very best."
She said the two of them and former UH regent Momi Cazimero started a program with the Officers' Wives Club "that was truth-telling about Hawaiian historical issues" at a time when the military and local community were divided.
They put on an exhibition at the Pacific Command headquarters about Hawaii's royalty, and Piianaia did many lectures on the military circuit, Helfrich said. "In her blunt way, she would say, 'You must know history so as not to repeat it.'"
Besides Norman and Nancy in Waimea, survivors include Piianaia's brother Gordon and his wife, Billlie, of Honolulu; and a large ohana including nephews St. Chad of California, Maikai and Gordon Heulu, both of Hilo, and Christopher of Honolulu, and many uncles, aunts, cousins , grandnieces and nephews.
Visitation will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary, with a memorial service at 11 a.m. and a reception following. Her ashes will be buried with her parents at Oahu Cemetery. Leis are welcome. Casual attire.