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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 17, 2003

Gladys Brandt, champion of Hawaiian culture

Highlights of Gladys Kamakakuokalani 'Ainoa Brandt's life

By Scott Ishikawa and Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writers

Gladys Kamakakuokalani 'Ainoa Brandt, the revered Hawaiian kupuna who was influential in everything from the revival of Hawaiian traditions to the shake-up of the Kamehameha Schools trustee system and the creation of the University of Hawai'i's Hawaiian Studies Center, died Wednesday at the age of 96.

"Auntie Gladys," as she was universally known, died quietly in her sleep at The Queen's Medical Center, leaving a legacy of grace, courage and strength as well as a touch of the kolohe or rascal spirit. In a state changed indelibly by her life as an educator, leader and tenacious fighter for Native Hawaiian rights and values, Brandt was always the voice of reason and justice.

Leaders across Hawai'i paid tribute yesterday to a woman who assisted countless Hawaiians to further their education, helped revive Hawaiian traditions at Kamehameha Schools in the 1960s, such as standing hula, and provided a strong hand for mediation and counsel in disputes.

"Gladys could talk to both sides and get people talking to each other, and nobody had any doubts where her heart lay," said senior U.S. District Judge Samuel P. King, her longtime friend and a co-author of the 1997 "Broken Trust" document that helped lead to dramatic changes in how Kamehameha Schools, then known as the Bishop Estate, is run.

"Her absence is going to make it easier for them to fracture," he said.

In paying tribute to her passing, former Gov. Ben Cayetano called her "one of the great citizens of Hawai'i" and told of the first time he asked her to consider appointment as a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

"She looked me in the eye and said, 'You rascal,' " Cayetano recalled. "But whenever I called upon her to do something for the people of our state, she was always there."

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye said that as the "ali'i nui" or high chief for Hawai'i, all of the laws that have restored pride and dignity to Native Hawaiians can be traced to her "wise counsel."

"She was a lady of great nobility, a woman of unlimited wisdom, one who was destined to lead, and one who was constantly called on for advice," Inouye said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said Brandt championed education as the future and hope of the Native Hawaiian people. "Education was the key she emphasized, not anger, fear or ignorance," he said.

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 today. Her funeral is scheduled for Jan. 29 at Kawaiaha'o Church.

Eyewitness to history

As an eyewitness to the major events in modern Hawai'i history, including the 1917 funeral of Hawai'i's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, Brandt saw the social changes of the past century and the Hawaiian Renaissance of the past 40 years.

As a child she was denied her culture, denied her language, and even tried to whiten her skin by rubbing it with lemon juice, said researcher David Kawika Eyre. As the movements for self-determination grew during the 1960s and 1970s, it was then she embraced her Hawaiian roots, doing everything in her considerable power to rebuild them.

"As a person, Gladys embodied the whole century," said Eyre, who is working on an oral history of the changes brought about at Kamehameha Schools by the removal of the former trustees. "As a human being and a Hawaiian woman, she went through all those horrific periods of denial, and that ran deep through the Hawaiian community."

By the 1960s, Brandt was becoming a driving force to rekindle her culture. "She and Nona Beamer got together and broke the kapu on standing hula at Kamehameha," said Eyre. "She was sure she was going to be fired. She was even packing her bags.

"Where we had denial in her early years, now there was defiance, and growing awareness of who she is as a Hawaiian."

Brandt wasn't fired, and her courage to stand up began moving the school toward new recognition of the strength of cultural values.

Kamehameha Schools president Michael 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," Chun said. "Many of us, including me, never thought there would be a day when there wouldn't be a Gladys Brandt."

Chun said 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.

"Managers usually want to do things by the book," he said, "but leaders like Brandt are concerned about doing the right thing for people involved, then trying to go about the right way in getting it done."

Native Hawaiian as principal

Though it was created as a school for Hawaiians, Brandt was the first Native Hawaiian principal of Kamehameha School 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 with a steady guiding hand that brought stability at a time of social and educational tumult.

Brandt was born in Honolulu on Aug. 20, 1906, into a family with four brothers and one sister. The daughter of David Kanuha and Esther 'Ainoa, she was hanai'd at 4 to Ida M. Pope, principal of the Kamehameha School for Girls, and was the only girl attending school with boys in the Preparatory Academy.

In her own words, she was "not the most well-behaved creature on earth" and her toughness and spunk appeared to form her character for future years. Mama Pope would ask, "How was your day, Gladys?" and Gladys would reply, "Very good, I only had to stand back of the piano twice today," according to a statement issued by Kamehameha Schools.

Her own rascal days gave her superb insight when it came to her years as a principal. Haunani-Kay Trask, UH professor of Hawaiian studies, remembers the day when her sister, Mililani, tried to run away from the boarding school where both sisters lived. Brandt got wind of it and cut her off at the pass.

"Auntie Gladys came by and said, 'Hello, girls, How are you doing? Can I take you somewhere?'" recalled Trask. Sheepishly, Mililani made something up and got in the car. In retrospect, Trask said: "She knew you were trying to do something wrong, but she'd always just say, 'Oh, hello.'... She had a tremendous sense of personal power but always exercised it in the most restrained and gentle ways."

Brandt came from tough, revolutionary stock. Her father was part of the counterrevolutionary movement of royalist Robert Wilcox in the mid-1890s working to restore the monarchy of Lili'uokalani. Though he was arrested and convicted of treason for his beliefs, David Kanuha was later elected to the new territorial legislature. He eventually changed the family name to 'Ainoa, meaning "to eat in freedom," a reference to the rallying cry when the kapu against men and women eating together was lifted.

Gladys studied at Kamehameha School for Girls, but graduated from McKinley High School and the University of Hawai'i, beginning her teaching career in 1927, the same year she married Isaac Brandt. They later divorced.

Brandt had many firsts in her career after teaching in public schools on Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i. She became Hawai'i'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.

Active volunteer

Brandt retired from Kamehameha Schools in 1971 after a career in education spanning 44 years. But her career as a volunteer in community activities, which had begun at 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, Kapi'olani-Children's Medical Center, the Regional Medical Program of Hawai'i, 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 Hawai'i.

She was an officer in several Native Hawaiian organizations, among them as president of the Hui Hanai, the auxiliary of the Queen Lili'uokalani 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 student selection committees at UH's John A. Burns School of Medicine, and the Goals for Hawai'i Education Committee.

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 UH-Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies, which last year was renamed in her honor.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Oswald Stender said Brandt was the one who pushed for the Center for Hawaiian Studies, and made sure there was sufficient money to complete it.

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

Brandt was also part of the 1997 "Broken Trust" essay that described mismanagement by the trustees of the then-Bishop Estate and was a catalyst for the upheaval that resulted in their removal. The essay was co-authored by Brandt; King; Monsignor Charles Kekumano, chairman of the Liliu'okalani Trust; retired state appellate Judge Walter Heen; and UH law professor Randall Roth.

"She was the group's Rock of Gibraltar," said Roth, "and brought wisdom and knowledge of the going-ons at the school, the needs of the students, and challenges facing the teachers."

It was Brandt's sharp wit that got the group through the tense times, Roth said.

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

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

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Hawaiian Studies center, said Brandt raised the level of understanding of the accomplishments and leadership of Native Hawaiians.

"Mrs. Brandt was a great Hawaiian warrior, descended from a lineage of ancient chiefs ... of Kalaniopu'u," she said. "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 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).

In her community service, Brandt recently accepted an invitation in the fall of 2002 to serve on the board of directors of 'Aha Punana Leo, the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program, and was elected treasurer.

"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 was preceded in death by her daughter, Esther Lillian Conant.

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

The family requests that no monetary donations, flowers or gifts be brought to the memorial service, but said donations in her memory may be made to the American Cancer Society, Hawai'i Pacific Inc., 2370 Nu'uanu Ave., Honolulu, HI 96817. Brandt was a cancer survivor and had served as a fund-raiser and volunteer for the cancer society.

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com and Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.