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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:10 p.m., Thursday, January 16, 2003

Kupuna Brandt dies at 96

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Gladys Kamakakuokalani 'Ainoa Brandt, the revered Hawaiian kupuna who was influential in everything from the revival of Hawaiian traditions to the shakeup of the Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools trustee system and the creation of the University of Hawai'i's Hawaiian Studies Center, died last night at the age of 96.
Gladys Brandt, noted for her work in Hawaiian issues on many fronts, died last night at age 96.

Photo courtesy Brandt family

Brandt died at 7 p.m. at The Queen's Medical Center after checking into the hospital Dec. 26 for failing health.

Lawmakers and Hawaiian leaders across the state paid swift tribute this morning to the woman who seemed to have done it all and helped countless Hawaiians in furthering their education. She helped revive Hawaiian traditions at Kamehameha Schools in the 1960s, such as standing hula, and was instrumental in the construction of the Hawaiian Studies Center at UH-Manoa.

Senior U.S. District Judge Samuel King, Brandt's close friend and a co-author with her and others on the 1997 "Broken Trust" that led to dramatic changes on how Kamehameha Schools is run, called her "one of Hawai'i's living treasures."

"Her dedication to education and improvement of the lot of Hawaiians led to her position as 'every Hawaiian's Auntie Gladys,' " King said. "She has been a mover and shaker in every area of Hawaii's social and political life for most of her 96 years."

King said he last visited Brandt at the hospital on Tuesday.

"I had a brief conversation with her in my previous visit with her, and she said she didn't feel well," King said. "She couldn't speak during my last visit, but when I told her that she will always be 'the queen of savoir faire,' she gave a little smile."

Kamehameha Schools, where Brandt served as principal of the girls' school and director of its high school division from 1963 to 1971, planned to hold a moment of silence in Brandt's memory tomorrow.

"Gladys 'Ainoa Brandt's life exemplifies those noble traits of character we see in great people ... wisdom and integrity, understanding and diplomacy, caring and compassion, and a commitment to serve," said school president Michael Chun. "Managers usually want to do things by-the-book, but leaders like Brandt are concerned about making the right decision for people involved, then trying to go about the right way in getting it done."

"Up until that point when I first met her while teaching at UH, I didn't know how to help other Hawaiians," Chun said. "It wasn't anything in particular she said to me, but more how she set examples by her actions."

Chun said he had sought Brandt's advice even until recently on which direction the Kamehameha Schools should take.

"We look at institutions being forever, and maybe we assumed she would be there forever," Chung said. "Many of us, including me, never thought there would be a day when there wouldn't be a Gladys Brandt."

1st Native Hawaiian principal

Brandt became the first Native Hawaiian principal of Kamehameha Schools for Girls in 1963, before becoming director of the school's high school division in 1969. She presided over the merging of the boys' and girls' schools into one campus.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who appointed Brandt twice to serve as trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1998 and in 2000, called her "an extraordinary person."

"I never met anyone who was so widely respected across all ethnicities," Cayetano said. "Whenever I called upon her to do something for the people of our state, she was always there."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said Brandt championed education as paramount to the future and hope of the Native Hawaiian people.

"Education was the key, she emphasized, not anger, fear or ignorance," Akaka said.

"All I can say is it's a very sad day," said Oswald Stender, OHA chairperson and former Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools trustee. "It's a major loss to the Hawaiian community, not only because she served as a role model to young Hawaiians, but she did so much in fund raising and supporting non-profit organizations."

Brandt was born in Honolulu on Aug. 20, 1906, the daughter of David Kanuha and Esther 'Ainoa. She studied at Kamehameha School for Girls, graduated from McKinley High School and University of Hawai'i.

Brandt was an eyewitness to many major events in Hawai'i modern history, including the funeral of Hawai'i's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani in 1917.

Began career in 1927

Brandt had many firsts in her career after teaching in public schools on Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i after earning her teaching certificate in 1927. She became Hawaii's first woman public school principal in 1943 and, in 1962, the first woman to be named district superintendent of schools.

In 1963, she was named principal of the Kamehameha School for Girls, serving in that capacity until she was promoted to director of the High School Division of Kamehameha Schools.

Former OHA chairman Clayton Hee, who was a student during Brandt's tenure, said she forced the school trustees to lift the ban on performing standing hula at the school, which was considered improper back then.

"She made changes at that time that no one dared change," Hee said. "She showed others that it was okay to disagree with this status quo, and when she had her word, that was it."

"She invested her belief in students and others who may not have succeeded without her support, including myself," Hee said.

Brandt retired from Kamehameha Schools in 1971 after a education career spanning 44 years. But her career as a volunteer in community activities, which had begun almost the same time as her teaching life, continued to grow. She threw herself into charitable and civic projects with energy and efficiency.

At one point or another, she served on boards of trustees of Wilcox Memorial Hospital, Booth Memorial Home, Kapiolani-Children's Medical Center, the Regional Medical Program of Hawaii, the State Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, the Salvation Army Drug Abuse Facility, the Native Hawaiian State Survey on Service Delivery to Hawaiians, and the Cancer Center of Hawaii.

She was an officer in several native Hawaiian organizations, among them as president of the Hui Hanai, the auxiliary of the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center. She also was a member of numerous advisory or governing boards involved with education the Board of Governors of Kamehameha Schools, two University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine student selection committees and the Goals for Hawaii Education Committee.

Joined Board of Regents

From 1983 to 1989 Brandt was appointed as a member of the UH Board of Regents, serving as chairwoman for four of those years. She helped shepherd the creation of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies, which earlier this year was renamed in her honor.

Stender said Brandt was the one who pushed for the Hawaiian studies center, and made sure there was sufficient funding to complete it.

"At one point, the state was considering shifting funding allotted for the center to complete the Stan Sheriff Center, and she went straight to the governor's office and stopped it from happening," Stender said.

Brandt was also part of the 1997 "Broken Trust" article that rocked the foundation of Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools, claiming financial mismanagement of the school. The essay, co-authored by Brandt, law professor Randall Roth, King; Liliu'okalani Trust chairman Monsignor Charles Kekumano, and retired state appellate Judge Walter Heen, eventually led to the trustees' resignation and reforms at the school.

Roth said Brandt's years of educational experience was invaluable in the writing of the "Broken Trust" essay.

"She was the group's Rock of Gibraltar, and brought wisdom and knowledge of the going-ons at the school, the needs of the students, and challenges facing the teachers," Roth said. "She kept us focused on our common task, and made little nuances to the essay that seem to change the tone of the whole page."

Sharp wit lauded

Brandt was known for graciousness and being respectful for others during the "Broken Trust" controversy. But it was also Brandt's sharp wit that got the group through the tense times, according to Roth.

"Shortly after the article came out, it was reported back that some of the former trustees said the public shouldn't listen to Auntie Glady and Monsignor Kekumano because they were old and senile," said Roth, who is senior policy adviser for Gov. Linda Lingle.

"Gladys shot back that 'someone should tell them that they should worry about us old and senile people, because that's the most dangerous kind.' "

"There will never be another Gladys Brandt, she is one in a billion, if not a trillion," Roth said.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Hawaiian Studies center, said Brandt raised the level of academic understanding of our people to new heights." Mrs. Brandt was a great Hawaiian warrior, descended from a lineage of ancient chiefs...of Kalaniopu'u. Her regal manner reminds us that her ancestors were gods that walked upon the earth... She taught us that unceasing service to our people was the way you provided leadership. She was perhaps the best example of Hawaiian leadership."

Numerous honors

Among the numerous honors and awards she received in her lifetime were The Order of Ke Ali'i Pauahi from The Kamehameha Schools (1971), the David Malo Award from the West Honolulu Rotary Club (1982), designation as a "Living Treasure" by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i (1985), and the O'o Award from the Hawaiian Business and Professional Association (1988).

"There aren't words to express the contributions she made," said writer David Penhallow, a former teacher under Brandt on Kaua'i and at Kamehameha, and former manager of Hanalei Plantation. "She made students reach for the stars, made you want to do better. She was the reason I became a teacher. She affected Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike."

Brandt is survived by daughter Lorita Gladys Wichman, grandchildren Fred Blake Conant of Connecticut and Christopher Conant of Honolulu, David Brandt Wichman of New York City; Warren Wichman of Waimea, Kauai; Randolph Wichman of Wailua, Kauai; Anthony Wichman of Koloa, Kauai; Stephen Wichman of Lake Tahoe, California; and Lisa Kamakakuokalani Wisotzky of Haydenville, Massachusetts; children of Lorita and Bruce Wichman of Ha'ena, Kauai, nephew Frank Brandt of Honolulu, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending. The family requests no monetary donations, flowers or gifts be made at the memorial service, but that contributions in her memory be sent to the American Cancer Society, Hawai'i Chapter.