PATSY TAKEMOTO MINK, 1927-2002
Mink remembered for her resolve, integrity
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
It was 58 years ago, but Elmer Cravalho can still remember his race for student-body president at Maui High School against a girl named Patsy Takemoto.
Advertiser library photo July 23, 1964
Patsy Mink went from the Hawai'i state Senate to the U.S. Congress following her successful campaign in 1964.
Advertiser library photo July 23, 1964
Takemoto won and started a political career that would take her as Patsy Mink through the Territorial House, Territorial Senate, Congress, Honolulu City Council, then back to Congress.
Her death yesterday, said retired Maui Community College professor Dick Mayer, "is a huge loss for us all."
From the suburbs of Honolulu and the Neighbor Islands that Mink represented in Congress to the governor's office to Washington, D.C., political allies, sometime foes, campaign workers and everyday people stopped to remember a woman whose career spanned more than 40 years and directly or indirectly touched so many people.
She was remembered as a role model for women for writing the Title IX legislation that calls for equality for women in school sports.
She was a champion for civil rights, they said. "She was the great voice of America for women's rights," said U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, " ... a great voice for peace and education."
In private, her confidants said, Mink's earnest public persona often gave way to a warm and witty spirit that few got to see.
"She was very humorous when she wanted to be," said Mason Altiery, a former state senator who served as Mink's administrative assistant in Washington before working on her failed campaign for governor.
Her work ethic and dedication were unmatched, Altiery said.
"She dedicated herself to making sure that people would have a better chance than she had when she grew up," he said. "She grew up in a time plantation days and all of that and she remembered it all. She spent her career dedicated to working for better education and equal rights, mostly women's rights. She pursued those goals relentlessly."
Republican William Quinn, Hawai'i's last appointed and first elected governor in 1959, didn't always agree with Mink's liberal politics. "But as a person, he respected her highly," said Quinn's wife, Nancy, who relayed his thoughts yesterday. "She was a very personable and fine woman."
Richard Port, former chairman of the Democratic Party, once tried to send campaign materials to Mink's congressional office in 1996. Mink would not stand for it.
"Her ethics simply did not allow anything of a political nature to enter her office," Port said. "She insisted it go to her campaign headquarters. I've known many elected officials, and no one could come close to her honesty and integrity."
Mink was never afraid to go to battle over principles, said Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, the Democratic candidate for governor.
"She had so much fight in her," Hirono said. "But when it came to her husband (John) and her daughter (Gwendolyn), she was just a mom and a wife. ... The personal part of her was really warm and loving."
Hirono's gubernatorial opponent, Linda Lingle, and running mate James "Duke" Aiona, called Mink a "visible and active citizen of Hawai'i nearly all her life."
Abercrombie said: "Patsy was my friend, colleague and a true daughter of Hawai'i. She was a person of spirit, tenacity and inner strength. I'm devastated by her loss. I will miss her terribly. I will especially miss her wisdom, her energy and her readiness to fight for principle."
Meda Chesney-Lind, a professor of women's studies at the University of Hawai'i, sat with Mink 15 years ago at a luncheon where Mink was a "normal, charming companion. Then she got up and just riveted the crowd. She was electrifying. She was extremely articulate and passionate."
Chesney-Lind was struck that Mink graduated from the University of Chicago's law school in 1951 the same year that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor could not get a job as a lawyer.
Today, Chesney-Lind finds that about half of the women in her classes at UH have participated in high school or college athletics. They're all a testament to Mink and her work pushing through Title IX, she said.
Despite her death, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said Mink's work would continue to benefit the people of Hawai'i.
"Her passing silences a dynamic voice," Akaka said, "but her legacy enjoins us to carry her fight for justice and equal opportunity forward."
Advertiser staff writers Lynda Arakawa and Christie Wilson contributed to this report.