BERTHA LEONG / 1931-2008
Isle legislator lit up House with ‘big smile’
Bertha Leong, a former schoolteacher who also served in the state House of Representatives for six years, has died. She was 76.
Former colleagues in the Legislature remember her kindness.
Leong, a three-term Republican who represented the Hahaione-Aina Haina district, died Monday at her home, said her daughter, Caroline Dang.
"She was always willing to help others through her kindness and generosity," Dang said. "She displayed genuine care and concern for others through the loving, unselfish way she reached out to others."
Leong was remembered by former colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, as a friendly face around the Legislature who will be remembered for her warmth and kindness.
"My friend and former colleague Bertha Leong was a genuine and gracious member of the House," said House Speaker Calvin Say, a Democrat. "She cared for people, especially children, and she worked hard as a lawmaker because she wanted a better future for them.
"Hawaii has lost a very special woman, and my heart goes out to her children and family members."
Leong first won office in 1998, and served at a time when the Republican Party reached its greatest heights in the Legislature with 19 elected members in the House. She lost in the 2004 general election to Rep. Lyla Berg, a Democrat.
"She was somebody who was very lovable," said longtime Republican Rep. Barbara Marumoto. "Everybody in the House really couldn't go by without saying hello to her, and she'd greet them with a big smile."
Leong served as assistant minority floor leader and was a member of various committees during her time, including the Economic Development, Finance and Tourism committees.
City Councilman Charles Djou, who previously served in the House, recalled how she got the nickname "tooth fairy," because her husband was a dentist and she always fought for dentistry bills.
In her last year in office, Leong was successful in getting a bill passed to ban the making, processing or distribution of products containing large amounts of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, chemicals used in flame-retardant products that are believed to pose health risks in large concentrations.
In addition to Dang, other survivors include sons Jonathan and Thomas Leong, daughters Patricia and Cynthia Leong, sister Ethel Ching, brother Gilbert Lau and 13 grandchildren.
Dang said her mother had requested a private ceremony, and the family plans to honor those wishes.
Star-Bulletin reporter Laurie Au contributed to this report.