Congressman Mark Takai dies after battle with pancreatic cancer

U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, D, Hawaii, died Wednesday morning at his home surrounded by family.

He was 49 years old.

Takai discovered a cancerous tumor last October and underwent surgery on Nov. 10, 2015.

We last spoke to Takai in February, who spoke positively, despite his prognosis: “It just knocks you down. There’s a bit of fear and there’s uncertainty, but we have great technology. You know as I mentioned, I have great faith, so we were able to build back the strength and be able to deal with this.”

In May, he withdrew from running for a second term for Hawaii’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives because the cancer had spread.

Takai was known by many, not just as a politician or lawmaker, but as an athlete and a scholar. He swam for the University of Hawaii at Manoa and also served as student body president.

“Frankly, when you look at Mark Takai, what a great example of what a student-athlete is and something to aspire to,” said UH Manoa athletics director David Matlin.

After college, Takai served in the Hawaii Army National Guard as a lieutenant colonel and deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His service didn’t end there. Takai spent 20 years representing the Aiea/Pearl City district in the Hawaii State House of Representatives before eventually becoming a U.S. Representative of Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz called Takai’s passing a “sad day for all of Hawaii” while Gov. David Ige thanked Takai’s family for “sharing him with the citizens of Hawaii.”

He served as the ranking member of the Committee on Small Business’s Subcommittee on Contracting and the Workforce in addition to being a member of the House Committee on Armed Services with fellow U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

“I was very sad to wake up to this news this morning,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard recalled a 16-hour marathon meeting that Takai attended, despite his health. “What struck me was Mark had already been diagnosed with cancer at that point. He was already fighting that cancer, but he took the job seriously in Congress,” she said.

Gabbard says Takai’s commitment to Hawaii is a testament to his character. “Like all soldiers, he knew that your time could come at any moment. Whether you are in combat or you’re here at home, you understand that you’ve got to make the most of your time that you have. That’s what I saw with Mark,” she said.

Gabbard says Takai’s passing at age 49 should be a reminder that “we can’t afford to put things off to the future when we don’t know what the future holds. We should make the most of the time we have now.”

Takai was married to Sami Takai and had two children, Matthew and Kaila.

In a statement, the Takai family thanked the people of Hawaii for their support during this difficult time. The Takai family politely asks for the continued respect of their family’s privacy.

Two ceremonies will be held in August in honor of the late Congressman. Click here for more information.


Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Representative Mark Takai today. Mark was always a fighter. It’s the spirit he brought to more than two decades of public service on behalf of the people of Hawaii. He stood up for America’s most vulnerable. He championed our troops and veterans, and proudly wore our nation’s uniform. And his relentless push for cancer research inspired countless Americans fighting the same battle as him. Simply put, our country is better off because of Mark’s contributions. He leaves a legacy of courage, of service, and of hope. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark’s wife, Sami, their two children, and his many friends and family. – President Obama

“Mark Takai was a devoted public servant who was committed to bettering our state and country in public office for more than two decades. He also gave back to his community as a celebrated champion collegiate swimmer, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a devoted family man.

“I affectionately called Mark my younger brother. We shared so many of the same values and supported each other during challenging times. Mark’s passing is a tremendous loss for all of us who loved him, and for the state of Hawaii. But he said it best- ‘as often happens, we find ourselves on a different journey than we had planned.’ While we find that our journey is not as bright without Mark, we will continue his work to make Hawaii a better place. My thoughts and aloha go to his wife Sami, his children Matthew and Kaila, and the Takai ohana.” – U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono

“This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark. Throughout his life, he was all about serving the people of Hawai‘i. He gave so much, and had so much more yet to give. My condolences to his wife Sami, his children, his parents, and his whole ohana, whose pride and support meant everything to Mark. This is a sad day for all of Hawai‘i.” – U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

“I’m deeply saddened today as we mourn the passing of my friend, colleague, and fellow soldier, Congressman Mark Takai. I’m grateful to have known and worked with Mark for over a decade. With a servant’s heart, full of aloha, he dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawaiʻi and our nation, in the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, in the Hawaiʻi Army National Guard, and in Congress. I had the good fortune of serving with Mark in all three of these capacities, and saw firsthand that no matter where he was, he always kept his service to Hawaiʻi’s people at the forefront of his actions. Mark’s smiling face and ready laugh will truly be missed, but the impact that he made through his life of service to the people of Hawaiʻi will always be remembered. My heart and prayers are with Sami, Matthew, Kaila, and all of Mark’s family and loved ones during this difficult time.” – U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“Today, the people of Hawai‘i mourn the passing of U.S. Rep. Mark Takai. He proudly served his country in uniform, including 17 years with the Hawai‘i Army National Guard. Mark humbly and effectively served the people of his state House and Congressional districts. In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant.

While we will deeply feel the loss of Mark Takai in the public arena, we cannot forget that he was a family man first. His wife, children and extended family will miss him every moment from this day on. Dawn and I extend our deepest sympathies to Sami, Matthew and Kaila. Your husband and father was a man of principle and goodwill. Thank you for sharing him with the citizens of Hawai‘i.” – Gov. David Ige

“It is with a heavy heart that I send my sincere condolences to the family of Congressman Mark Takai. Mark was an admirable public servant and a champion on issues important to his district and the people of Hawaii. As a fellow University of Hawaii alumnus, I appreciated his strong advocacy and support for the University, especially the athletics program that played such a prominent role in his life. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mark at the Legislature and am honored to have been able to call him a friend. During this difficult time, my thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sami and their two children. He will be dearly missed.” – Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui

“Upon hearing this sad news, my immediate thoughts were with Mark and his entire family. I was lucky to have worked with Mark in the State House and the commitment and dedication he had for his country, his state and Hawai‘i’s many diverse communities was obvious to all. Whether on deployment with the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, debating national security issues in Congress, or simply providing a helping hand for various community projects, Mark served with vigor and energy, and his presence and sound reasoning will be sorely missed. On behalf of everyone at the City and County of Honolulu, I send my condolences and love to Mark’s wife Sami, their two children Matthew and Kaila, and his parents Erik and Naomi.” – Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell

“Congressman Mark Takai was a good, kind, gentle man. He was an admirable father and husband, and a humble servant leader. Mark was a champion athlete and a champion for the people of Hawai‘i. Our aloha goes out to his wife Sami, son Matthew and daughter Kaila. Mark’s loss is a big loss for all of us who call Hawai‘i home.” – Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi

“It is with a heavy heart that we learned of the passing of U.S. Representative Mark Takai.

He was a true public servant in every sense of the word — from serving our country in the Hawaii Army National Guard, representing Aiea/Pearl City in the state legislature for 20 years, and carrying the aloha spirit to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Representative Takai was also a strong supporter of the Hawaii State Judiciary’s Veterans Treatment Court and its outreach efforts. He went out of his way to consistently recognize and encourage the participants, team members, and mentors involved in this program.

We thank him for his service and commitment to the people of Hawaii and our nation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.” – Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald

“We are deeply saddened to learn that Congressman Mark Takai has passed. He was a true friend of public education, and he will be greatly missed.

Throughout his time in elected office in state and federal government, he was a staunch advocate for Hawaii’s public schools. Congressman Takai advocated tirelessly for funding and resources to help the Department’s efforts in providing quality education for all children.

Mark was also a proud public school graduate of Pearl City High. He was a role model and remains an example of leadership and service to communities.

On behalf of the Hawaii State Department of Education, I extend my heartfelt condolences and aloha to the Takai family during this difficult time.” – Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi

“Mark was a champion of the middle class starting with his days in the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, throughout his days in our State Legislature and in the United States Congress. The HGEA has lost a dedicated member. Our collective thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sami and the Takai family at this sad time.” – HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend and colleague, Mark Takai. We have lost a great public servant who dedicated his life to making Hawaii and our nation a better place. We will miss him dearly. Please join me in sending our thoughts and heartfelt aloha to Sami, Matthew, Kaila and the rest of the Takai ohana.” – Colleen Hanabusa

The University of Hawaii lost an extraordinary member of our ohana today. Everyone associated with UH will always remember Representative K. Mark Takai as not only a dedicated public servant and family man, but also as a proud and highly engaged UH Mānoa graduate.

Mark was a championship swimmer for UH Manoa, ASUH student government president and editor-in-chief of the Ka Leo student newspaper. Everyone who knew him on the Manoa campus knew he was destined for great things. And, as he advanced in his career, Mark continued to be a passionate supporter of higher education and the University of Hawaii.

After graduating from UH Manoa and before his election to Congress, Mark committed to serving our nation and our state in the Hawaii Army National Guard and in the State House, where he served for 20 years. As the chair of the Committee on Higher Education, he worked especially closely with UH leadership to advance the university.

Representative Takai was a role model for many, and all of us will miss him personally and professionally.

Our hearts go out to his parents Erik and Naomi, his wife Sami, also a member of our UH ohana, his children Kaila and Matthew and the rest of his family and friends. We thank them all for sharing him with us and we grieve together, knowing that we are all better for having known and worked with Representative K. Mark Takai. – University of Hawaii president David Lassner

Our dear friend Mark Takai was a beloved member of the University of Hawaii Athletics ohana and proud UH Manoa alumnus. His association with UH Athletics spanned four decades beginning as a four-year letterman for our swim team from 1985–89 where he was a Western Athletic Conference champion as part of the 4×100 medley relay. Throughout his life, Mark was one of our biggest supporters through his involvement with Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, Athletics Advisory Board, Letterwinners Club and as an elected official, where he tirelessly worked for the betterment of our student-athletes and sports programs.

In 2012, the Letterwinners Club recognized Mark with the Kane Fernandez Award for his unselfish support of UH Athletics in the community. On behalf of the UH Athletics Department, our thoughts and prayers are with Mark’s family and friends. This is tremendous loss to not only the UH Athletics Department but our entire state. Mark will forever be a Rainbow Warrior. – University of Hawaii athletics director David Matlin

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