(BIVN) – U.S. Representative Kaialiʻi Kahele remembered the late Billy Kenoi on the floor of the U.S. House on Thursday. Kenoi died last week, following a five year battle with cancer.
Here is a transcript of the short speech, as delivered by the Congressman from Hilo:
Aloha, Mr. Speaker. My ʻohana is from the last Native Hawaiian fishing village in Hawaiʻi, Miloliʻi. You likely have never heard of Miloliʻi, if you haven’t heard of the small fishing village of Miloliʻi, then you probably haven’t heard of Kalapana.
Kalapana, like Miloliʻi, is an ocean community. But Kalapana sits in the shadow of the volcano Kīlauea. It’s been shaped by the various destructive lava flows that flowed through. But no matter how many times this happened the people of Kalapana remained resilient, and proud of their community.
Mr. Speaker, I can think of no one who embodied the pride and resilience of being Kalapana-born and raised, than William Punapaiaʻalaikahala Kenoi, known to most as Hawaiʻi island Mayor Billy Kenoi.
Billy Kenoi would probably talk about the papaya fields of Kalapana and the mentors that helped him see the world outside of them. Their inspiration took him from the slopes of Kīlauea, to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. From there, the boy from Kalapana walked with reverence through these very halls, which he regarded as a heiau, or spiritual center of democracy, as a congressional intern with the legendary Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
He then went on to attend the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. As he moved through his career, he remained that same resilient and proud kid from Kalapana. He worked for justice as a public defender with indigent clients. He moved home to Hawaiʻi island as a public servant, dedicated to helping his island weather the crystal meth crisis that was ravaging our communities. His leadership in crisis, born of the lava flows and fields of Kalapana, eventually translated to leadership at the island level, when he was elected as Hawaiʻi County Mayor in 2008.
Nobody could deny Billy’s charm, keen political drive, and charismatic leadership. And for all his high level leadership and larger than life personality, he left his mark in the individual interactions had he with people, always kind and authentic. Some of us had the fortune of getting to know him as friend. For me, he was also a mentor.
I will always remember Martin Luther King Day, January 2016, because it was that day my father had a heart attack and passed away a week later. In the chaotic hours after he passed, there were too many calls and texts of support to count. Certainly, too many to answer. Despite all of this, one person’s grief persisted and pierced through the profound grief, Billy Kenoi. He called, asked where I was, and told me to come to the State Capitol. He said it was time. I didn’t know what he meant by that. My father had just passed, but when Billy spoke, I listened. When a man who was once a boy from Kalapana calls you in the middle of a family crisis, you know he summons with it the resilience and strength of an island community, that persisted through lava flow after lava flow. I went to the Capitol to the desk of my father in the State Senate, surrounded by his colleagues, and my life was forever changed.
Five years to the day after he passed, Billy Kenoi went into Pō himself, and he crossed into the afterlife. He left behind a beautiful wife, Takako, and three children: Justin, Liam, and Mahina. He was only 52, and like my father, he was too important a leader to lose too soon.
Billy was the personification of Kalapana. No matter what change life threw at him, he embraced it with pride, resilience, and sense of humor. As Hawaiʻi is now altered by the passing of this leader, we will conjure his spirit and the spirit of Kalapana. We will remember the boy from Kalapana who became the incomparable leader, Billy Kenoi.
Colleagues, I leave you with words from his final speech… and he was famous for speeches… to remember him, and take us to a more resilient and prouder future.
‘If impossible is nothing, then everything is possible.’
Mahalo, and I yield back.