Patsy Mink posed with her campaign poster in 1990.

Patsy Mink: 1927-2002

The U.S. representative, famed
for her liberal voice and her
work on Title IX, dies of
pneumonia at 74

Star-Bulletin staff

U.S. Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Maui-born political pioneer and a strong liberal voice for Hawaii and the nation for nearly half a century, died yesterday after a month-long illness. She was 74.

» A lifetime of accomplishments
» Hawaii politicians express sorrow
» Would-be successors say now is no time for politics
» Female athletes will miss Mink's passion for equality

One of her greatest legislative accomplishments, she felt, was the passage of Title IX. The bill, which she co-authored in 1972, led to expanded opportunities for women and girls in athletics and academics.

"She is one of the giants whose vision of hope and passion for justice led Hawaii to statehood and whose labor broke down barriers and opened doors to opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, gender or faith," said U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka.

As a territorial and state lawmaker, city councilwoman, federal official and member of Congress, Mink fought for gender equity, better schools, environmental protection and social justice.

Yesterday, she lost her battle with viral pneumonia. She was admitted to Straub Hospital on Aug. 30 with chickenpox and transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit two days later when she developed pneumonia.

News of Mink's death was received with sadness over the loss of a stateswoman who made a difference in Hawaii and across the nation.

Her death was marked by a moment of silence at the University of Hawaii's football game against Southern Methodist University at Aloha Stadium.

"She's a very remarkable person, a fiery speaker. They don't make them like that any more," said Lucienne de Naie, Maui resident and Hawaii Sierra Club conservation chairwoman. "She rose up from humble beginnings and embodied the American dream that anybody who sets their mind to it can use their abilities to the full extent that God gave them."

Mink's career was a series of firsts: the first woman of color elected to Congress, the first Asian-American woman to practice law in Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Territorial House.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, her colleague and friend, said: "Patsy Mink was one of the pioneers who transformed Hawaii and the nation. Her legacy survives on every school and college campus in America. More profoundly, it lives on in the hope, progress and improvement she brought to the lives of millions."

Left, Mink got a kiss in 1990 from her Democratic congressional opponent that year, Mufi Hannemann, at the start of the Democratic rally in Hilo. Center, Mink traveled with a congressional delegation to Canada in 1972 to discuss U.S.-China relations. Right, Representative-elect Mink met President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 at the White House after a reception for newly elected members of Congress.

Mink was campaigning to return to Congress when she became ill. During her hospital stay, few details were released on her condition, with her family members asking for privacy and that the public be patient while she recovered.

Her campaign continued to roll on without interruption but her political opponents complained that the lack of information on her health was a disservice to voters.

While in the hospital, Mink handily defeated Steve Tataii in the Democratic primary. She was expected to win in the general election against Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott.

On Friday, a Democratic Party statement said Mink's condition had worsened and her prognosis for recovery was poor.

Mink's name remains on the general election ballot and, if she wins, the seat will be vacant until after a special election.

The fiery spirit that so many people admired in Mink was evident even as a child growing up in Paia, Maui, where she was born on Dec. 6, 1927.

She once recalled how, as a 4-year-old, she hung onto the shirt of her older brother, Eugene Takemoto, demanding, and eventually winning, the right to accompany him to the first grade.

Mink attended Maui High School, where she played basketball at a time when girls played half-court because, as Mink put it, "they said it was too strenuous for us." She was valedictorian of her class in 1944.

Mink received a bachelor's degree in zoology and chemistry from the University of Hawaii in 1948 and a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1951.

She was a private-practice attorney from 1953 to 1964 and was part of the movement of mostly second-generation Japanese Americans who mobilized Democrats to take control of state government from Republicans in 1954. She was elected to the Territorial House in 1956 and Territorial Senate in 1959.

Caught up in the fervor of statehood in Hawaii in 1959, Mink ran against Daniel Inouye for Hawaii's then-lone U.S. House seat, but lost.

Mink served in the Hawaii state Senate from 1962 to 1964, when she was elected to the U.S. House. She was among the early opponents of the Vietnam War, going with fellow Democrat and U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug of New York to Paris to talk to participants in the peace talks.

She ran as a anti-war presidential candidate in the Oregon primary in 1972, receiving 5 percent of the vote in her loss to another anti-war candidate, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern. Mink's strong liberal stands led conservative opponents to dub her "Patsy Pink."

In a 1986 magazine interview, Mink considered the limited presidential bid a highlight of her political career.

While in Congress, Mink helped write environmental protection laws safeguarding land and water in communities affected by coal strip mining.

A victim of race and gender discrimination, Mink played a key role in the 1972 passage of Title IX as a member of the House Education Committee. The federal civil rights legislation prohibits gender discrimination at any educational institution receiving federal funds and is credited for greatly increasing scholarship money for female athletes.

On the 25th anniversary of the law in 1997, she said, "At the moment we were doing it, we didn't think it would have this fantastic momentum and the enforcement of the courts."

In 1976, she lost the Democratic primary battle with then-Rep. Spark Matsunaga for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Hiram Fong.

President Jimmy Carter appointed her assistant secretary of state for oceans, international, environmental and scientific affairs from 1977 to 1978.

Mink had a large following among the nation's liberals, serving as the national president for Americans for Democratic Action from 1978 to 1981. The group once pushed for her candidacy for vice president on the Democratic ticket.

Following her tenure as ADA president, Mink returned to local politics. She won a seat on the Honolulu City Council in 1982 and was chairwoman from 1983-85, then ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1986 and Honolulu mayor in 1988.

In 1990, she won a special election to regain the 2nd Congressional District seat representing rural Oahu and the neighbor islands after U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga died and U.S. Rep. Daniel Akaka was appointed to his seat.

Jeff Mikulina, director of the state Sierra Club chapter, said even when he sent Mink testimony on a bill, he received a personal note from the congresswoman. "That really struck me," he said. "I think that was part of her secret of being so well liked for decades."

Mink is survived by her husband, John, a hydrology and geology consultant, and her daughter, Gwendolyn Rachel (Wendy) Mink, a professor of political science at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, donations will be accepted to the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Fund for Low-Income Women and Children, which the family will establish in her memory.

Reporters Crystal Kua, Helen Altonn, Diana Leone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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