Saturday, December 13, 2008

Two recent deaths

Although it might appear on this blog that our focus is often more on occurrences on O'ahu, I actually try to keep on top of things by reading other neighbor island based newspapers online.

Today for instance, I'm writing briefly about an article published on The Maui News website. The article, "Kalaupapa leader Richard Marks dies."

The article highlights many of Marks' accomplishments. Marks was also a Hansens' disease (leprosy) patient who was sent to Kalaupapa because of his condition. Richard was a strong advocate in the effort to make Kalaupapa leprosy settlement a National Historic Park and he worked with the late Patsy Mink, to have Kalaupapa settlement managed by the National Park Service.

Marks' activism is inspiring. The article provides, "Gloria Marks recalled that her husband boldly proclaimed, 'I am a leper,' in a controversial 1968 magazine article, and went on to talk about the injustice of continuing to isolate patients. The Department of Health threatened to sue him over the interview, she said, but a year later the Legislature repealed the state's 104-year-old quarantine policy.

'He was the one who opened up the door,' she said.

In 1996, he was recognized by the Damien-Dutton Society for Leprosy Aid for his efforts to educate people about the disease and about the history of Kalaupapa.

'They have all the worst ideas about leprosy being such a contagious disease, which is plain nonsense,' he said in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press. 'Over 1,100 people have come here to work since Father Damien and Father Damien was the only one who got the disease.'

Last week, I met an attorney at a downtown event. Upon learning that he was an attorney that represented a few labor unions in Hawai'i, he immediately said, "No labor unions, no middle class."

I was surprised to find out last night that long time labor activist, Ah Quon McElrath passed away. I was surprised because earlier this week, I noticed that she was on the cover of the current Midweek magazine which also has an article on this incredible icon. Today, the story can be found on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser website. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in their story, appropriately refers to Ah Quon as a "stalwart champion"

I remember the first time I heard of and saw Ah Quon McElrath. I was a second year law student at the time, the fall of 2005. Cathy Lowenberg, a speaker at the same event, then was a first year law student who helped to organize a presentation at the UH campus on social activism. Cathy spoke on labor issues. Other speakers included 2005 William S. Richardson School of Law graduate Beau Bassett and then visiting professor of law from the Georgetown University Law Center, Mari Matsuda.

I didn't immediately realize back at that event in 2005 that Ah Quon was then 89 years old. Her liveliness and continuous advocacy against injustice was mis-leading in terms of her age.

I'd like to post what a few people have said about her so far online,

At the Pacific Business News website, Patty Keaweamahi wrote,
Ah Quon was truly salt of the earth quality and will surely be missed. She was such a strong influence to all of us who got to know her, and had such a strong will, made of iron. She utilized her wisdom and strength to stand up against all the injustices committed against any human being, especially women. It was truly an honor to know this remarkable woman. She has left such an indelible mark on my life.

Governor Linda Lingle, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, said,
She was "the voice of working men and women in Hawaii and across the country. The people of our state owe her a debt of gratitude for her tireless efforts to improve the lives of Hawaii's residents."

Also in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Hawaii state Representative, Marcus Oshiro is quoted as saying, "Although we look at her as being maybe the matriarch of the union movement in Hawaii, she had a bigger constituency, she served the larger community. She used her life's energies and talents for the common good. She was a role model for women, the disenfranchised, the underdogs, the have-nots."

Both Richard Marks and Ah Quon McElrath will be sorely missed.

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