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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 27, 2001

Community leader Myron 'Pinky' Thompson dead at 77

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Myron B. "Pinky" Thompson, a former Bishop Estate trustee and a force for change for Native Hawaiians for more than 30 years, died Christmas day. He was 77.

Myron "Pinky" Thompson was a leader in developing better health care for Native Hawaiians and helped revitalize the Polynesian

Voyaging Society.

Advertiser library photo

Thompson, who was born in Honolulu Feb. 29, 1924, died at the Queen's Medical Center after a battle with cancer.

Thompson was a visionary who helped create the Hawaiian Health Care System, stepped forward in the late 1970s to refocus efforts of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and helped create Alu Like to funnel federal money toward Native Hawaiians in five priority areas: job training, health, housing, education and native rights.

Thompson developed a powerful sense of personal responsibility to make a difference, partly as the result of a severe World War II injury.

He had suffered a head wound in the aftermath of the second assault on Normandy Beach. It took two years to recover, and with his eyes bandaged, it was a time of great introspection.

He had a tremendous pride in being Hawaiian and was angry at what had happened to them during the past 200 years. But he was able to turn that anger into ways he could help Hawaiians.

In an interview in September, he told The Advertiser he grew up feeling a sense of confusion.

"I was growing up in two different worlds," he said. "I was a Hawaiian, and felt I should be proud of it, but Hawai'i was dominated by the Western system that conveyed that we were inferior. I got the message 'You're not good enough, and yet, you can be if you work hard.' "

In many ways, his childhood set the tone for his life of service. His parents, Irmgard Harbottle, a school teacher, and Henry Nainoa Thompson, an accountant, raised a dozen foster children who became like brothers and sisters. He grew up listening to their hurt and anger.

Thompson attended Punahou on a scholarship and graduated in 1943. He was a star athlete during his career there. After graduation, he went into the Army.

Thompson attended Colby College in Maine, where he received a bachelor's degree in sociology. He received a master's in social work from the University of Hawai'i in 1952.

Thompson was the executive director of Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center from 1962-1967.

From 1967-1970, he was state administrator for Gov. John A. Burns. He was the executive director of the state Department of Social Services and Housing from 1970-74.

During that time he also was the first chairman of the State Land Use Commission.

As a trustee for the Bishop Estate, now called the Kamehameha Schools, from 1974-1994, Thompson helped develop early childhood education programs, which were canceled in the late 1990s. The cancellations became kindling for the firestorm that followed.

The controversy helped lead to the resignation and ouster of the former trustees; the Hawai'i Supreme Court justices stepping down from selecting trustees; and the Probate Court appointment of the five current trustees, including his son, Hokule'a master navigator Nainoa Thompson.

During his time with the Department of Social Services and Housing, he is said to have earned a national reputation fighting for welfare money and benefits for Hawai'i.

Thompson helped found Alu Like and Papa Ola Lokahi, the Native Hawaiian Health Care System, in the mid-1980s. And from 1979-2001, he led the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Programs at Alu Like, a social services agency, have helped an estimated 100,000 Native Hawaiians.

"Thompson believed that self-esteem and pride were critical to the health of Hawaiian people and that embracing and understanding their culture was the way to elevate Hawaiian self-esteem," Thompson's family said in a statement released yesterday.

Through his work with the voyaging society, the family said, Thompson was instrumental in bringing together "the families of the Pacific" — the Maori, Alaskans, Micronesians, Cook Islanders and others.

"He helped recreate Polynesia's rich voyaging heritage and in doing so, he reawakened the pride of Polynesia's people and a deep sense of connectedness among its people."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawai'i), mourned Thompson's passing.

"Hawai'i has lost a noble leader," Inouye said. "Native Hawaiians have lost an extraordinary leader. He will be forever remembered for his work to establish Alu Like, Papa Ola Lokahi, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the list goes on... We have all lost a great friend."

Clayton Hee, chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, worked with Thompson in the early 1990s while the two were on the board of the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program. Hee said Thompson's dedication to creating preschool programs in Kamehameha Schools will be felt long after his death.

"His gift to education is one that will live through us," Hee said.

Hee said it was ironic that many Hawai'i residents probably think of Thompson only as the father of master navigator Nainoa Thompson. The senior Thompson's efforts at the helm of the Polynesian Voyaging Society helped it to send canoes throughout the Pacific and inspire pride in Hawaiians.

"He was not on a canoe, but he was navigating the lives of Hawaiian people and, by extension, the lives of non-Hawaiians," Hee said. "He was a remarkable guy."

His unusual nickname came from his mother.

So convinced that she was pregnant with a girl, she decorated the baby's room completely in pink and purchased pink clothes. Ever since, her son was known as "Pinky."

A family spokeswoman said Thompson is survived by his wife, Laura; daughter Lita; sons Myron and Nainoa; brother Henry; a sister, Kamaoli Miyamoto; and five grandchildren.

Advertiser staff writer Beverly Creamer contributed to this report.