HEI chairman to receive Ellis Isle Medal of Honor


POSTED: Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Jeffrey N. Watanabe, chairman of Hawaiian Electric Industries, has been selected to be a recipient of the 2009 Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Watanabe, 66, a grandson of Japanese immigrant workers, will be among the honored recipients at ceremonies and a dinner at Ellis Island in New York on Saturday.

“;It's an honor,”; he said. “;It honors the people who came before me who made it possible.”;

Those who have been recipients in the past include U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, singer Gloria Estefan, actor Gary A. Sinise and boxer Muhammed Ali.

The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Foundation Inc., the group helping to organize the event, recognizes the contributions of people from various ethnic groups.

Watanabe's grandparents, who came from Fukuoka and Hiroshima prefectures in Japan, arrived on Maui in the early 1900s to work at a sugar plantation owned by Alexander & Baldwin Inc.

Watanabe serves as an Alexander & Baldwin board member.

“;When you think about it, my family's come full circle,”; Watanabe said.

Watanabe, a 1961 graduate of Roosevelt High School, earned a bachelor's degree at the University of California at Berkeley and worked his way through law school, earning a law degree from the National Law Center of George Washington University in 1968.

He helped to found the Honolulu firm of Watanabe Ing LLP in Honolulu and has helped in a number of nonprofit endeavors as a member of the Smithsonian National Board and board of governors of the Nature Conservancy.

He currently is chairman of the Consuelo Foundation providing services to exploited women and children in the Philippines and Hawaii.

Watanabe has four grown children, three grandchildren and his wife, Lynn, who is also an active community volunteer.