Native Hawaiian advocate Kekuni Blaisdell dies at age 90

Kekuni Blaisdell, MD is greeted by S. Kalani Brady, MD in 2014 at a ceremony for the dedication of a new healing ahu ola (healing alter) at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine 2014. A stone from Dr. Blaisdell is one of the foundation stones for the alter. (Photo courtesy John A. Burns School of Medicine)


Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, professor emeritus and founding chairman of the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) in 1966, died Thursday of respiratory failure at Queen’s Medical Center.

At the time of death, he was surrounded by his immediate family. He was 90 years old.

Blaisdell was a leading advocate of Native Hawaiian self-governance.

In 1983, Blaisdell helped author a groundbreaking paper that called attention to declining health among Native Hawaiians. His scholarship and leadership eventually led to legislation and considerable funding from the U.S. Congress for programs that directly impact the health of Native Hawaiians.

“He’s considered a pillar by many,” said Mele Look, director, JABSOM Department of Native Hawaiian Health. “The conversation of Native Hawaiian health does not happen without the mention of the name Kekuni Blaisdell. He inspired generations of physicians, of scientists, of political activists.”

Blaisdell’s professional endeavors have included the creation of and involvement in programs and organizations that include Alu Like, Papa Ola Lokahi and E Ola Mau, an organization of Native Hawaiian health professionals.

A 1942 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Blaisdell became an expert in the medical fields of hematology and pathology. He served in the U.S. military and was appointed to the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following World War II, to study the affects of radiation on people exposed to the atomic bombs exploded in those cities.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell Proposed Chair in Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (account #127-2010-2). Checks can be made payable to UH Foundation. Click here to donate online.

Kekuni Blaisdell, MD is greeted by S. Kalani Brady, MD in 2014 at a ceremony for the dedication of a new healing ahu ola (healing alter) at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine 2014. A stone from Dr. Blaisdell is one of the foundation stones for the alter. (Photo courtesy John A. Burns School of Medicine)
Kekuni Blaisdell, MD is greeted by S. Kalani Brady, MD in 2014 at a ceremony for the dedication of a new healing ahu ola (healing alter) at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine 2014. A stone from Dr. Blaisdell is one of the foundation stones for the alter. (Photo courtesy John A. Burns School of Medicine)

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