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Veteran Lawmaker Helene Hale Dies at 94

Posted February 4, 2013, 01:34 PM HST Updated February 4, 2013, 02:47 PM HST
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Former state Rep. Helene Hale, center, at the groundbreaking of the Pahoa High and Intermediate School gym in 2009. Accompanying her were former County Councilwman Emily Naeole, left, and state Rep. Faye Hanohano, right, women who followed in her footsteps. Photo courtesy of Big Island Chronicle.

Helene Hale, a ground-breaking lawmaker who spent 26 years in three different legislative bodies, died Friday at the age of 94 at her Hilo home.

Hale, who held a master’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota, where her grandfather was the first black to graduate, moved to Kona in 1947 where she taught at Konawaena Intermediate and High School.

Living in Opihihale in South Kona presented her with a vivid lesson in the Big Island’s geology.

Hale once told this reporter that as she was driving home from school one day her path was blocked a short distance from her house by a lava flow from the 1950 eruption of Mauna Loa’s southwest rift that had reached the roadway. As a result , she was forced to drive through Hilo, around the entire island, to reach her home.

In 1954, Hale was elected to the county Board of Supervisors, the predecessor to today’s County Council, where she served for 10 years. The last two were as the board’s chair, the equivalent at the time to the county’s mayor, making her the first woman executive in local government since Queen Liliuokalani.

04-b3-ebony-PICIn 1963, she was featured on the cover of Ebony, a magazine established 18 years earlier to highlight African-American news and culture, as Hawaii’s top female politician.

That issue of the magazine also contained an article on learning to swim, which was fitting. Hale was a longtime advocate of swimming, which she continued to pursue well into her later years.

Among her later accomplishments would be helping the county establish the Ahalanui “Hot Pond” Park and the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center, Puna’s best-known swimming venues.

After leaving politics – for the first time – she established an advertising firm, sold real estate and for a short time taught English at the University of Hawaii.

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After serving as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention, she re-entered politics and won a seat representing Puna on the County Council where she served for 10 years between 1980 and 1994.

Hale was long known as someone willing to buck the system – and the council’s male-dominated leadership — for causes in which she believed. They often involved underdogs.

Hale with Mayor Billy Kenoi at the dedication of the new Pahoa gym in March 2012. Photo courtesy of Big Island Video News.

Hale with Mayor Billy Kenoi at the dedication of the new Pahoa gym in March 2012. Photo courtesy of Big Island Video News.

In 2000, she ran and won a seat in the state House of Representatives at the age of 82. She served six years in the Legislature, where her accomplishments included securing funding for a new gymnasium at Pahoa High and Intermediate School, which was commemorated to her.

Hale is survived by granddaughter Angelique Kauilani Tucker Stephens of Hollywood, Calif., niece Barbara Hilyer and her husband John Daggett of Portland, Ore., nephew ret. Judge Bruce Hilyer of Seattle, son-in-law Judge Marcus Tucker of Long Beach, Calif., grandnieces and a grandnephew.

She was preceded in death by her parents, siblings, husband Richard Kiyota, and her two children.

Among Hale’s legacy will be the Helene Hale Scholarship Fund to be administered by the University of Hawaii at Hilo. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in her name to the “University of Hawaii Foundation” to benefit either ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Helene Hale Scholarship Endowment, or the UH-Hilo Public History Enrichment Fund (which will be archiving Hale’s public papers). Donations may be mailed to UH-Hilo Office of Development at 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720.

Services are pending.

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