STAR-BULLETIN / 2002
Journalist Ah Jook Ku, who worked for the Star-Bulletin and the Associated Press, was a tireless advocate of open government and Hawaii's Sunshine Law. She died Aug. 6.
Openness was Jookie’s neverending quest
The previous generation sow the seeds, but later generations reap the harvest."
This is one of the Chinese adages that Ah Jook Ku uses to begin the chapter that she wrote in commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the First Chinese Church of Christ.
Her chapter was later published in 1988 in the book titled "Sailing for the Sun -- the Chinese in Hawaii 1789-1989."
"The previous generation sow the seeds, but later generations reap the harvest." How lucky we are to be in that later generation that benefits from the dedication and selfless public service of Ah Jook Ku -- or "Jookie," as she was almost universally and affectionately called in the community.
Jookie died on Aug. 6 at the age of 97. A memorial service was held on Aug. 21, attended by many who had been touched by her and her work.
While we in Hawaii remember how much she has done for the community, we should also note that she made a unique contribution as a journalist. She overcame what has been called the double barrier of both gender and race to become the first Asian-American woman journalist for the Associated Press and later the first one for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. She also covered the events and government in China before the Communists seized power in 1948.
I first got to know Jookie in the early 1980s when the state and city governments were restricting access to government meetings and virtually all government records. Jookie became the institutional memory in all of the efforts for more open government -- both meetings and records -- and these efforts have spanned nearly four decades.
She was in on the founding of the Honolulu Community-Media Council in 1970 to promote a free press and provide a forum for citizen complaints about the news media. Jookie served as executive director of the Honolulu Community-Media Council for 27 years -- from 1975 until 2002 -- when she was 92 years old.
She was there when the Sunshine Law was passed in 1975; that law established as policy that Hawaii's state and city boards would be presumed to be open to public attendance and participation with specific exceptions.
And she was an important voice organizing testimony when Gov. John Waihee's committee received public comments in 1987 about improving the state's government records law. She was one of five citizens who lent her name and energy to save the Star-Bulletin from closure so Honolulu could have a diversity of voices in daily newspapers.
She had unlimited energy and dedication. She kept meticulous notes and clippings in big black notebooks and could systematically look up past activities. She was always the first to be agitating for community groups to start thinking about who the Freedom of Information Day speaker would be every March and she usually coordinated the publicity for that educational and informative event.
She served as a mainstay for the Sunshine Law Coalition, which coordinated the voices of a wide range of community organizations and individuals that presented testimony to the Legislature and to the governor's committee in 1987.
For example, the testimony that the coalition submitted -- and, as I recall, that she largely wrote -- for the Governor's Committee represented the views of the League of Women Voters, the Hawaii Council of Churches, the Conservation Council of Hawaii, the American Association of University Women, Save Sandy Beach, the Inter-Governmental Relations Committee of the City Council, Rep. Rod Tom, Jahan Byrne and myself.
That testimony ticked off community complaints:
» that the Honolulu Police Commission discontinued its long-standing practice to disclose publicly the names of police officers who were the subject of commission investigations;
» that newspaper reporters were unable to obtain records from the Department of Health about dangerous levels of pollution in Mililani water;
» that the University of Hawaii failed to give proper public notice that it was appointing a new chancellor; and
» that it had failed to make public the salaries of university personnel.
Some of these community complaints were rectified by the much-improved public records law passed by the Legislature the next session in 1988. We thought that law solved the problems of secret government in Hawaii. But we now see that optimism was unfounded.
Much, much more work is needed these days. Secrecy that has increased at the federal level has trickled down to state and local governments. And the state office established to administer the laws for open meetings and records has been emaciated -- even by a governor who pledged to restore public trust in government.
So, as we remember Jookie and the seeds that she planted, let us hope we can rededicate ourselves to continue planting her seeds so that future generations -- and today's public -- have some harvests that they can actually reap.
Beverly Ann Deepe Keever is a professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii. The views expressed are her personal perspective. This article is adapted from Keever's remarks made at the memorial service for Ah Jook Ku.