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State Leaders React to Kenoi’s Death

January 27, 2021, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated January 27, 7:44 AM
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Mayor Billy Kenoi. Courtesy photo.

Local and state leaders will remember former Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi as an inspiring leader.

Kenoi passed away Tuesday afternoon at his home in Volcano after battling rare blood cancer, myelofibrosis, for more than five years. He was 52 years old.

“Billy Kenoi was an energetic and inspirational leader who had a knack for bringing people together,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement Tuesday. “His death is a huge loss for our community. Dawn and I express our deepest condolences to Billy’s family and loved ones.”

Kenoi served as mayor of Hawai‘i County from 2008-15. The family released the following statement:

“William “Billy” Punapaiaʻala Kenoi, beloved husband, father, uncle, brother, friend, and former mayor of Hawaiʻi County, died today at home with his family after a long battle with cancer. He was 52.

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His ʻohana is grateful for the outpouring of aloha, and thanks everyone for their support and for respecting their privacy at this time. Details on memorial services are forthcoming.”

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Several state and county leaders spoke about Kenoi’s legacy.

“He had an enduring love for the people of Hawai‘i, especially those on his home island,” Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald stated. “He was humble and down-to-earth and spoke passionately about his journey to becoming a lawyer.”

Recktenwald said Kenoi was a strong supporter of the construction of the Keahuolu Courthouse in Kona, which opened in late 2019.

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“He understood that the west side of the island deserved a real courthouse for its people. We will be forever grateful to him for his support,” Recktenwald added. “On behalf of the Hawaii State Judiciary, I extend my sincere condolences to his wife and family.”

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

Mayor Billy Kenoi. Maui County courtesy photo.

“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.”

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.

“As a native Hawaiian, Billy was and will continue to be my inspiration,” David said. “I will always remember and cherish his unique ability to touch people with his thoughts and words of wisdom. He will live in my memory as a true example of aloha and humility, and one who demonstrated a deep respect for this beautiful island, his sense of place, his cultural connection, and love for the people of this land. Aloha ‘oe to a beautiful soul.”

Kaua‘i County Mayor Derek SK Kawakami stated he shares in the “overwhelming outpouring of love as we grieve for Billy.”

“While he may have been a Mayor of a county, he was more than that – he was a son of Hawaiʻi,” Kawakami stated. “Billy had the unique gift to find each person’s strength, speak to it, then inspire. He moved not just minds, he moved hearts.”

Kenoi was a role model for Kawakami — in his leadership and how to live life to the fullest.

“I am eternally grateful for his mentorship, guidance, and friendship these past years,” the Kaua‘i mayor said. “Monica and I extend our deepest aloha and sympathy to Billy’s ‘ohana – his wife Takako, and his kids Mahina, Justin, and Liam. Hawaiʻi is a better place because we have known Billy. We will miss him.”

US Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) said Kenoi was one of Hawai‘i’s most talented political leaders.

“His understanding of, and empathy for Hawai‘i and its people drove his meteoric rise and motivated his public service,” Schatz said. “His love for Hawai‘i Island, his intellect, and his heart will leave a mark in our collective consciousness and in Hawai‘i’s history. May his memory be a blessing.”

One of Kenoi’s last public speeches was made in November when he spoke virtually at the 170th State Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i annual luncheon in November.

As the state and nation continue to grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenoi expressed his optimism.

“In spite of difficult and challenging times that we’ve had in the past, we’ll certainly have in the future and that we’re currently having at the present, our challenges and crises are also opportunities — opportunities for progress, opportunities for hope but most importantly opportunities to come together through cooperation, collaboration and determined focus collective effort,” Kenoi said.

In this challenge everyone is facing, Kenoi was certain of one thing — that “we’re all gonna get through it.”

Ige will order flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Kenoi on the day of his memorial service. Arrangements are pending.

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