Hawaii Island Senator Gil Kahele dies at 73

State Senator Gil Kahele


A public memorial will be held this week for Hawaii Island Sen. Gil Kahele.

The 73-year-old died Tuesday morning surrounded by family at Queen’s Medical Center after being hospitalized last week for undisclosed medical reasons.

The senator had not been in attendance at the State Legislature since the session opened.

Sen. Will Espero said the announcement of Kahele’s passing was made in Senate chambers during caucus Tuesday morning.

In a joint statement, the Hawaii State Senate said that “as a visionary and proponent for strengthening Hilo’s economy, Sen. Kahele sought ways to help create jobs and business in his district. Among his many accomplishments, Sen. Kahele was instrumental in bringing much needed funding to build the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He also was a staunch supporter behind the creation a world-class School of Aviation at the underutilized Hilo Airport and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.”

On Wednesday, from around 12:30-5 p.m., and Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., the Senate will open its doors to those who wish to express their sympathies. Visitors will be able to sign a condolence book, which will be shared with Kahele’s family.

gil kahele senate chamber flowers

Some of Kahele’s legislative colleagues and government officials commented on the senator’s death.

“If there’s anything Gil would probably leave with all of us is probably just to love and respect one another,” said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria. “Try to work together as best as you possibly could and just make sure that what we do is for the betterment of Hawaii.”

From state representatives from the Big Island, including Mark Nakashima, Clift Tsuji, Richard Onishi, Joy San Buenaventura, Richard Creagan, Nicole Lowen and Cindy Evans:

“All of Hawaii Island and the state of Hawaii have lost a wonderful individual and energetic public servant. As a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Milolii, Gil was truly a keiki o ka aina, and a gentleman who always had others in his heart before his own concerns. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all who felt Gil was a part of their family. He will be sorely missed at the Legislature.”

From Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair Jobie Masagatani:

“Senator Kahele was the true embodiment of a native Hawaiian leader – humble in his approach and steadfast in his advocacy. He was a strong supporter of our Keaukaha and Pana‘ewa homestead communities, never missing an opportunity to congratulate a new homesteader in person and shake the hands of the construction workers who built the home. We thank Senator Kahele for his service and offer our heartfelt condolences to his ohana, staff, colleagues and friends during this difficult time.”

From OHA Chairperson Robert K. Lindsey Jr.:

“Senator Kahele will be remembered as a favorite ‘Son of Miloli‘i.’ He was an active member of our Hawai‘i Island Caucus. I will always remember his huge smile, his love and compassion for people, his love for his beautiful family, and his thoughtfulness as well as the way he cared for those struggling to make ends meet. He will be missed.”

From U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono:

“Gil Kahele served Hawaii and our country with distinction for more than 50 years, first in the U.S. Marine Corps, then as a community advocate and in elected office. I will remember Gil for his kindness and tireless work on behalf of the people of Hawaii Island and our state. Gil’s steadfast advocacy on behalf of individuals and families ensured that the resources were available to address community needs for Tropical Storm Iselle and the Puna lava flow. My thoughts and prayers are with Gil’s wife Linda and the entire Kahele ohana.”

From Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell:

“As a lifelong public servant in the military and state government who championed Native Hawaiian causes, Sen. Kahele always wore his Aloha Spirit on his shirtsleeve and made everyone around him feel welcomed and appreciated. It’s my sincere hope the senator’s ohana can find some level of comfort and healing by recalling all that the senator accomplished during his life and all of the people he helped along the way. I always enjoyed spending time with Gil. He was such a kind and gentle soul.”

And from Governor David Ige:

It is with much sadness that I learned of Senator Kahele’s passing. He was a dedicated public servant who spent the last few years working for the good of his beloved community at the Hawaii State Legislature. He was a respected and influential leader both in the legislature and in his hometown community of Hilo. My deepest condolences to his ohana, friends and supporters during this difficult time.”

Kahele represented Hilo and became a state senator in 2011 when Gov. Neil Abercrombie selected him to represent Senate District Two after Russell Kokubun resigned his seat to become a member of Abercrombie’s cabinet.

Friends, fellow lawmakers and constituents have been bringing flowers to his office at the State Capitol. Services are pending.

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