Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Political aide Kanoelani O'Connor dead at 75

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kanoelani "Lani" O'Connor, a former assistant to then-congressional delegate and later Hawai'i governor John Burns, died July 5 in Virginia. She was 75.

O'Connor was born Kanoelani McMillen in Honolulu and raised in Wahiawa. She graduated from Leilehua High School.

In 1953, she married Thomas O'Connor and the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for Burns, who represented the territory of Hawai'i in Congress. Kanoelani O'Connor also was a hula and Hawaiian culture instructor who was known as the "ambassadress" of Hawai'i in the nation's capital.

As Hawai'i fought for statehood in early 1959, O'Connor played a key, although little-known, role in congressional approval of the statehood bill. The measure sat in the House Rules Committee, which was run by the iron fist of Virginia Democrat Rep. Howard Smith.

Burns promised Smith, known as the "Judge," that if the measure passed through his committee that a hula girl would put a lei on the judge. O'Connor was that "hula girl," the lei was presented, the bill passed and the rest is history.

O'Connor also served as executive secretary to the chaplain of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She later worked in the office of U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong and completed her federal service as secretary with the U.S. Parole Commission.

Illness forced O'Connor into early retirement, but she remained active in Washington. She was on the board of governors of the Hawai'i State Society of Washington, D.C., and in 1969 she helped design a Hawaiian float for the presidential inaugural parade.

O'Connor is survived by sons, William and Thomas II; daughter, Deborah McCue; two grandchildren; brother Francis McMillen; and sister, Kehaulani Schroeder.

Mainland services are planned.