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Friends recall how the former congressman pushed civil rights and environmental projects


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POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

As a young Democrat facing a dilemma, John Kato thought about Tom Gill and wondered, “;What would he do?”;

“;Tom Gill was one of the first real inclusive guys,”; the 53-year-old said at a memorial service yesterday in Moiliili.

About 200 people attended the service for Tom Gill, former lieutenant governor, U.S. congressman and state representative who died June 3 at the age of 87.

Those in attendance remembered how Gill worked to help protect the environment, workers' rights, civil rights, and shone as an independent voice within the Democratic Party.

Kato recalled seeing Gill on television as a 8-year-old and met him at a Young Democrats meeting in 1978. At that meeting, Gill told him to reach out to constituents by listening to their hopes and desires.

“;I remember as a kid, Tom Gill was one of those people I always respected,”; said Kato, a counselor in the state Judiciary. “;You could count on him to do the right thing and he would do just that.”;

Born in Honolulu, Gill served in World War II and studied law in California.

As a U.S. representative, he ushered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through committees to a vote. As a state lawmaker, he authored land-use legislation to preserve open space and agricultural lands and prevent urban sprawl.

Lifelong friend Ted Tsukiyama remembered when Gill returned home from the University of California at Berkeley with a law degree, he passed over opportunities to work for large firms and advocated for the working class.

He had a “;deep social conscience,”; Tsukiyama said.

“;I just respected his life,”; said Makiki resident Patrick Connair, 58, a ship watcher. “;Tom Gill was really trying to change things.”;

He admired how Gill had worked for many groups and not just his circle of family and friends.

Connair, an alumnus of Antioch College in Ohio, recalled a quote by Horace Mann, regarded as the father of American education, made at the college and now preserved there in an engraving. The quote, he said, was embodied by Gill:

“;Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”;