Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, November 10, 1997

Monsignor Kekumano
is back on his feet

ON Sept. 9, when the respected Monsignor Charles Kekumano arrived at the Rotary Club of Honolulu to make a presentation about the embattled Bishop Estate trustees, he walked in gingerly with the help of a cane.

Those who knew the energetic 78-year-old as he dashed from meeting to meeting -- and who always started his speeches with jokes, sometimes about the clergy and often borderline bawdy -- were taken aback by the sight of Kekumano's sudden delicacy.

But he wasn't worried. Although the downtown Honolulu resident had felt tired all summer and suffered pains in his shoulder and hip, he simply thought his spine was out of alignment. The retired Roman Catholic priest believed it was nothing that a good chiropractor couldn't cure.

So the truth came as a surprise one Saturday morning when Kekumano went to his doctor's office and heard the results of a slew of medical tests.

His physician told him there was good news and bad news: His malady was prostate cancer but, luckily, it was treatable.

Kekumano died a little inside hearing the diagnosis, but he tried to act upbeat. He had just been thrust into the public spotlight as one of five co-authors of the famous "Broken Trust" article that ran in the Star-Bulletin on Aug. 9.

This opinion piece had inspired an attorney general's investigation into the five trustees of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, and last week a probate court filing pitting Gerard and Oswald against Dickie, Henry and Lokelani.

Kekumano was also chairman of the Liliuokalani Trust, an active member of the Council of Alii Trusts and, ironically, president of the Friends of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.

All of that would have to be put on hold, as Kekumano refocused on a usually ignored priority: himself.

He swallowed pills by the handful. Since a bone scan showed the prostate cancer had spread to his shoulder and hip, nine straight days of radiation were scheduled at Queen's Medical Center.

After every 10-minute session, he would feel fine. Then Kekumano would go home and experience several hours of intense nausea and drowsiness. All he wanted to do was sleep.

The monsignor lost 40 pounds, even though well-meaning friends brought over casseroles and other dishes in a futile attempt to nourish him. Kekumano felt so punk that he stopped answering the phone. Concerned pals asked the condo resident manager to look in on him.

Prospects for recovery and rehabilitation seemed bleak. Rumors began circulating that the monsignor might soon meet his Maker.

NOT so fast. Today Kekumano is still walking with a cane -- but his sense of humor, energy and appetite have returned. Last Monday, he scarfed down a bowl of jook and a ham, cheese and avocado sandwich at the Plaza Club. It's no wonder he's regained 20 pounds, as well as that mischievous twinkle in his eye.

He has resumed his duties at Liliuokalani Trust, but schedules meetings in the morning so he can rest in the afternoon and go to bed by 8. Also, he has cut back on those speeches he was so famous for, sparkling dissertations of island wit and wisdom that always started with a smile-raising joke.

That's OK. Kekumano, it seems, is beating the big "C" and enjoying the last laugh. His Maker will just have to wait.

Bishop Estate Archive

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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