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Former Hawaiʻi County Mayor Billy Kenoi Dies After Long Battle With Cancer

January 26, 2021, 4:36 PM HST
* Updated January 26, 5:00 PM
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Former Hawaiʻi County Mayor Billy Kenoi has died.

Since 2015, Kenoi battled rare blood cancer, myelofibrosis. He died Tuesday afternoon. He was 51 years old.

“Our Billy, beloved husband, father, uncle, brother, friend, and former mayor of Hawaiʻi County, passed away today at home with his family after his long battle with cancer,” family wrote on “I MUA Billy Kenoi” Facebook page this afternoon. “His ʻohana thanks everyone for their support and for respecting their privacy at this time. Details on memorial services to come.”

Friend and colleague County Councilwoman Maile David said she and Kenoi had a close working relationship when he was mayor.

“He did so much for this island,” David told Big Island Now Tuesday. “What I really honor him for was bringing the island together as a whole.”

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Kenoi served as mayor from 2008-15. Prior to coming into office, David said, there seemed to be a sense of East Hawaiʻi and West Hawaiʻi as separate entities. He united the island, she explained.

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Recently elected Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said Kenoi was the embodiment of a true Big Island boy and a pillar of the community.

“His time as mayor and the accomplishments made under his direction were just a small glimpse of the man he was and the aloha he had for this community,” Roth said in a statement this afternoon. “Our thoughts are prayers are with his wife Takako and his three children today as we remember a man who brought with him tenacity, vigor, aloha, and a can-do attitude that is unparalleled to most. In his honor, I ask that when faced with any challenge, big or small, that we remember his famous words, ‘if can — can; if no can – still can!’”

US Congressman Kai Kahele said Kenoi knew how to make anyone feel special. Through his inspiring words he was able to touch the hearts of others, and in doing so, often created positive change in the community where needed.

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“With Billy, he would be the last to accept recognition, yet the first to give it to someone else,” Kahele said in a statement. “Billy showed us, by example, the importance of investing in our communities. His imprint and contributions are seen throughout the County of Hawaiʻi and will be felt for generations.

“Maria and I extend our deepest sympathies to Billy’s wife Takako, his daughter Mahina, and his sons Justin and Liam.

Billy leaves an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of the people of Hawai‘i, especially those lives he generously touched on Hawaiʻi Island. He will be greatly missed.”

Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi (District 8 – Kauaʻi and Niʻihau) released a statement regarding Kenoi’s death.

“I was saddened to learn about the passing of former Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Billy Kenoi. He was a dedicated public servant who deeply cared about the people of Hawaiʻi. Even in the midst of his own health challenges, Billy continued to inspire those around him through with his warm sense of humor and his gift of oratory.

My heartfelt aloha goes out to his wife – Takako, his children – Liam, Justin and Mahina and the rest of the Kenoi ʻohana.”

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