Gladys Brandt

Famed and respected educator,
civic leader and mainstay in
the Hawaiian community dies

Emily 'Honey' Ho
More obituaries

By Sally Apgar

Gladys Kamakakuokalani Ainoa Brandt, a revered Hawaiian kupuna and educator, who touched many lives and resurrected pride in traditions such as hula, died last night. She was 96.

Brandt was admitted to the Queen's Medical Center on Dec. 26 with an undisclosed illness. A statement released by her family said that she was "at peace, free of pain and surrounded by family and loved ones" at the time of her death.

Lynne Waters, a family spokeswoman, said during a news conference this morning that Brandt was feeling weak and admitted in failing health. Despite aggressive care, she failed to rally, she said.

A memorial service is being planned for Jan. 29 at Kawaiahao Church.

U.S. District Judge Samuel King, a longtime friend who visited Brandt's bedside several times in the days before her death, said in a statement, "Gladys Brandt was one of Hawaii's Living Treasures. Her dedication to education and the improvement of the lot of Hawaiians led to her position as 'every Hawaiian's Auntie Gladys.' She has been a mover and a shaker in every area of Hawaii's social and political life for most of her 96 years. Our hearts go out in aloha to her family. She will be missed."

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee and former Kamehameha Schools trustee Oswald Stender, also a long-time friend, said "she gave her life, and it was a long life, to her community and Hawaii and especially to the Hawaiian people. This is a tremendous loss and a huge void that makes me very sad."

Daniel Ishii and Gladys Brandt flanked Gov. George Ariyoshi who appointed them to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.

Former University of Hawaii Regent Momi Cazimero, another lifelong friend, said "she has touched me and she has had an impact on many people. As a strong Hawaiian woman, she was a light on a path and she invited me and others to follow her. She provided a path for Hawaiian women to follow. And with that, she has charged them with the responsibility to bring along the next generation and for them to bring along the next."

A fierce defender of Hawaiian traditions, Brandt, the former principal of the Kamehameha School for Girls, joined with King and three other writers to produce "Broken Trust," an essay published in August 1997 that harshly criticized the then-trustees for financially mismanaging Kamehameha Schools.

Within days of publication in the Star-Bulletin, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano ordered an investigation into the charitable trust that was formed in 1884 to educate children of Hawaiian ancestry. By the end of 1999, the trustees were ousted and organizational reforms had begun.

Kamehameha President and Headmaster Michael Chun said, "Mrs. Brandt was a gracious lady who dealt with difficult challenges from the view of doing the right thing first, and then doing it the right way second. She was always concerned with what is right, and not who is right. Clearly, she was a leader with a servant's heart ... an alii in every way that truly counts."

King said Brandt's heart and leadership were critical to reform of the trust.

"She had been there and run the girls' school. She knew the people and the issues involved and had the reputation of someone who could talk straight without making it personal," King said.

Jan Dill, president of Na Pua A Ke Ali'i Pauahi, a group of Kamehameha alumni, parents and teachers, said "because of her stature, she was able to say things that were on people's hearts and minds that they felt unable to say or felt they would not be heard because of their stature."

The reverence Brandt drew in the Hawaiian community could be seen last July when Kamehameha alumni, students and parents crowded the school auditorium to talk to the trustees about their controversial decision to accept a non-Hawaiian student to the Maui campus. The air of the auditorium crackled with tension and anger. But when Brandt entered, everyone, regardless of their position on the issue, stood and clapped in a show of respect.

"That was an example of the kind of reverence most people have for her," said Dill, adding, "She was a guiding light for the Hawaiian community and particularly for Kamehameha Schools." Dill and others said Brandt had the ability to bring people together for a greater common good.

"She was our stability, our ballast for our conflicts and disagreements," said Dill. "We will miss her because not many individuals can be the ballast for groups who are so passionate in their views."

Dill remembered the days following the historic May 15, 1997 march of alumni, teachers and students to Kawaiahao Plaza to protest the then-trustees management. At a meeting after the march, about 100 restless people, angry at the trustees but emotionally charged by the support they received from the march, crowded into a hall near Kawaiahao Church. But their voices instantly dropped to silence when Brandt walked in. And all stood in respect.

Cazimero said that one reason Brandt was such a strong leader in the Hawaiian community was her unyielding self-confidence. Cazimero explained that stripping Hawaiians of their language, lands, customs and identities also ate away their confidence. But Brandt helped people find their confidence and their pride.

"Aunty Gladys is the symbol of confidence," she said of Brandt, who as principal of Kamehameha's girls' school revived hula, which had been banished as taboo by the missionaries.

Born in August 1906, Brandt lived part of her childhood with her hanai mother, Ida May Pope, who was the first principal of Kamehameha's girls' school from 1894 until her death in 1914.

Janet Zisk, Kamehameha's archivist, said Brandt told her that she referred to herself as "Miss Pope's hanai daughter and that she was very spoiled by Miss Pope." Brandt was the only girl to attend the boys' elementary school.

Years later, Brandt served as the last principal of the girls' school, which merged with the boys' school in 1965. Brandt's father, David Kanuha, taught tailoring in the boys school which also made uniforms for the school.

When Brandt was 16, her father changed their last name to Ainoa. Brandt graduated from McKinley High School in 1925. After receiving her teaching certificate from Normal School in 1927, she began teaching in the Maui public schools and later in the Kauai school system. In 1942, she graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor's degree in education. By 1962, she had served as principal at both Kalaheo and Kapaa schools on Kauai and as district superintendent for that island's schools.

Brandt became the first native Hawaiian principal for Kamehameha's girls' school in 1963.

During her tenure, Brandt wanted Nona Beamer to teach Hawaiian culture at Kamehameha. Beamer said she would only teach if standing hula, which was forbidden for girls, was taught. Beamer had been thrown out of Kamehameha at one point for dancing standing hula at a tea party for the trustees. Together, the two brought back hula to Kamehameha.

In 1969, Brandt became the director of Kamehameha's high school division and then retired in 1971. But her career did not stop there.

In 1983 then-Gov. George Ariyoshi appointed her to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. She served six years on the board, including four years as chairperson. She also worked hard to found the UH Center for Hawaiian Studies, helping guide the project through the board and state Legislature.

Stender said that the center almost lost its construction funds because of "a political tug-of-war" between two factions. He said Brandt met with everyone and persuaded them to come together so the center could be built. In March 2002, the center was rededicated in her Hawaiian name, Kamakakuokalani.

According to one published account, the name, which came from her maternal grandmother, means "the upright eyes of heaven" and alludes to the "divine imagination of the artist."

At the rededication ceremony, Brandt said she hoped the center would preserve the beauty of the culture for future generations and heal the wounds of the past.

"In education, not anger, resides our future. In education, not ignorance, resides our hope. In education, not fear, resides justice," she told the audience.

In 1998 and again in 2000, Cayetano appointed Brandt to serve as a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

In a statement, Cayetano said, "She was an extraordinary person. I never met anyone who was so widely respected across all ethnicities. When I asked her to reconsider her OHA appointment, she looked me in the eye and said, 'You rascal.' But whenever I have called upon her to do something for the people of our state, she was always there."

Cazimero and others mentioned the strong lifelong friendship between Brandt and another spiritual leader of the Hawaiian community, Msgr. Charles Kekumano, who also authored Broken Trust. Kekumano and Brandt were bound as friends and Hawaiian activists.

Neil Hannahs, Kamehameha's director of land assets, recalled that Kekumano held a party for Brandt on her 91st birthday. He said Kekumano draped a lei around her neck and kissed her on the cheek. Brandt replied that she had to wait 91 years for him to kiss her.

She was at his side when he died of cancer in 1998.

With a loving laugh, Judge King said of his two friends: "I'm sure she is going to meet Msgr. Kekumano and the two of them will figure out an activity that will cause a lot of uproar wherever they are."

Brandt is survived by her daughter, Lorita Gladys Wichman, and grandchildren, Blakeslee Conant of Connecticut, Christopher Conant of Honolulu, David Brandt Wichman of New York City, Warren Wichman of Waimea, Kauai, Randolph Wichman of Waialua, Kauai, Anthony Wichman of Koloa, Kauai, Stephen Wichman of Lake Tahoe, Ca., Lisa Kamakakuokalani Wisotzky of Haydenville, Mass., and nephew Frank Brandt of Honolulu.

Brandt was married to the late Isaac Brandt.

The family requests no flowers. Instead, contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, a favorite charity of Brandt.

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