MARGARET AWAMURA INOUYE | 1924-2006
Maggie Inouye, an 'inspiration'
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By Beverly Creamer and Gordon Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers
By Beverly Creamer and Gordon Pang
Margaret "Maggie" Shinobu Awamura Inouye never took the spotlight but was the strength behind one of Hawai'i's most powerful leaders and a tireless campaigner for more than half a century.
When she died yesterday at age 81 from complications of colon cancer, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye called her his "inspiration."
"It was a most special blessing to have had Maggie in my life for 58 years," Inouye wrote in a wrenching four-page memorial to the woman he fell in love with at first sight.
"She was my inspiration, and all that I have accomplished could not have been done without her at my side. We were a team."
Friends from school days spoke of her commitment to the goals of education while at the same time loving to cook and sew her own clothes.
Other friends painted a touching picture of the last months of her life, the senator cooking for her in the Washington home that had been their refuge from power politics and a firewall between his public life and their family's privacy.
Maggie Inouye, who died yesterday at Walter Reed Memorial Medical Center in Washington, D.C., recently had been hospitalized after an exam showed "small blood clots and some fluid in her right lung, and she had been undergoing a process of draining out the fluid and dissolving the blood clots," Sen. Inouye said in a news release.
"This most recent medical challenge came after Maggie underwent surgery in November 2004 to remove a cancerous growth from her large intestine. Her surgeons had pronounced that operation a success.
"As she has done throughout her life, Maggie handled her difficult situation without complaint, and with dignity and grace," Inouye wrote. "Although her chemotherapy treatments would leave her drained, she always had a smile for you and she retained her optimistic outlook."
A gracious figure who often brought calm to frenetic political campaigns, Maggie Inouye was also a willing campaigner in the early days of her husband's bids for office.
Close friend and campaign strategist Jeff Watanabe remembers escorting her to a meeting at the old Alakea bus terminal back in the days when mechanics worked in a grimy pit and the buses needing attention were driven over their heads.
"She was wearing a white linen coat and skirt and as we were walking up one of the mechanics came out of the pit wiping his hands and he was just covered with oil," said Watanabe, an attorney. "Several other people were down there and my first thought was to get her out of there.
"But she headed straight for one of the mechanics who said 'Hi Maggie' and went right into the pit. They were trying desperately to wipe their hands and they kind of backed off and didn't want to get her dirty. But she shook every hand down there."
In 1962 when then-Congressman Dan Inouye was making a bid for the Senate against powerful Republican Ben Dillingham and couldn't get away from Washington, his wife hit the Hawai'i campaign trail for 60 hours a week, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, tramping in high heels at first, from hospital kitchens to dime stores, to supermarkets to lunch counters to ask for support for her husband.
"Hi," she'd say extending her hand, "I'm Dan's wife," admitting at the time that she lived on black coffee.
She shook Democrat and Republican hands alike and when Inouye, the underdog, won that race, he gave much of the credit to his tenacious wife.
Retired First Hawaiian Bank chairman and chief executive officer Walter Dods, who ran several of Inouye's campaigns, said Maggie Inouye played a key role as an adviser in the campaigns, but was never pushy about it.
"She wouldn't insert herself," he said. "But if you went to her or needed some comfort, she was there. She was just very calming to the whole campaign. Very matter-of-fact. She brought people back down to earth. Whatever the problem, we would overcome it and get through that particular incident of the day."
CALMING, YET FIRM
Margaret Awamura was born June 23, 1924, in Wailuku, Maui, and grew up in Kalihi, in an upwardly mobile family with six daughters. She went to Ka'iulani Elementary School on North King Street, just down the street from the family jewelry store across from A'ala Park where they also lived. She and Clara Katekaru were the best of friends there and met up a few years later on high school registration day at Farrington High.
But when it came time to sign up, Maggie sensed her friend's unhappiness at the prospect of attending Farrington, which then was not an English standard school. "Want to do something else?" Maggie asked.
The two caught the bus to Roosevelt in Makiki, took and passed the English standard test for entry, started high school there and were life-long friends.
"She was really an important person for me in my teen years, somebody to talk to all the time," Katekaru said. "She was always there."
That calming, yet firm demeanor would come in handy later as the wife of a U.S. senator, Katekaru said.
"I often said she was the perfect wife for a very busy man. She never seemed to complain but she could do so many things so well."
They later attended the College of Education together at the University of Hawai'i and Katekaru became a lifelong educator.
"We were two kids from Palama but we made it," Katekaru said.
The two kept in touch and Inouye would call anytime she was home from Washington.
"There are so many things that she did that she did quietly," Katekaru said.
Maggie Inouye was also a great supporter of other friends — and a mentor to younger women.
For instance, when Leanna Lee Whitman left Hawai'i to attend the University of Pennsylvania in 1963, she didn't know many people. The one person she did know was her eighth-grade teacher from the University of Hawai'i Laboratory School — Maggie Inouye.
THE GENTLE FEMINIST
The senator's wife became a constant cheerleader for Whitman and asked for updates about her educational progress.
Whitman, who today is a law librarian for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals library in Philadelphia, said Inouye expressed pride when she learned she had received both a doctorate degree, and later a law degree. She also insisted that her student be addressed as "Dr. Whitman" and left messages identifying herself only as "Maggie."
"I always thought of her as a gentle feminist," Whitman said. "She always told me it was so important to be a wife and to have a family, but she also said 'You need to have something of your own, your own career.' "
Whitman added: "She wasn't pushy and she never expressed that women should, above all, do their own thing. But it was important to her that a woman felt fulfilled in her education and in her career."
Sumie "Sue" McCabe, who majored in English at UH and taught with Inouye at the lab school, also spoke of her ability to encourage her students.
"She was a great teacher who really inspired a great number of students, most of whom became successful teachers, businessmen, politicians and public servants," McCabe said.
She also remembered Maggie Inouye as a stylish woman. "She made most of her own clothes, she had a wardrobe of lined linen dresses made from (patterns in) Vogue magazine," McCabe said. "She was a walking model."
Robert Campbell, a retired teacher at the lab school, was fresh off the boat from the Mainland and learned much about Hawai'i from his colleague, Maggie Inouye.
Not only did she teach him how to eat Chinese food at McCully Chop Sui, Campbell said, "she was quite a good educator — she had good empathy for the kids who were going to be teachers."
Her commitment to education was honored in 2005, when Maggie Inouye was selected as one of Roosevelt High School's most distinguished alumni. Sometime before that, the Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals was established at the University of Hawai'i — and contributions poured in faster than any other fundraising campaign in the UH Foundation's history.
Dan Inouye freely admitted that his wife's education — a master of arts degree from Columbia University — was highly unusual for women of the day. Her impressive credentials, plus her beauty, meant that many men were courting her, he wrote in his book "Journey to Washington" published in the 1960s, and he had worried her family wasn't sure what this young Army captain had to offer their daughter.
"Once I said to her, 'What made you say yes to me? My future is anybody's guess. But what's-his-name? — he's a professional man, and there were others ...' " Inouye wrote.
"I'm not in love with the others!" she replied angrily, Inouye wrote. "And I'm not in love with what's-his-name either. And I believe your future will be greater than all of them put together. Does that answer your question?"
In the same book, and in a recent DVD entitled "Daniel K. Inouye, An American Story," by Heather H. Giugni and produced by Juniroa Productions, Inouye spoke of how he fell in love with the beautiful and graceful Maggie Awamura the same day he set eyes on her.
"I met Margaret Awamura for the first time and I said to myself: 'She's going to be my wife,' " Inouye recalled in the Juniroa production.
"I did what all young men of my generation did," he continued. "We went to Ala Moana Park. We parked there, looking at the torch fishermen. And I'm sitting there. Suddenly, I turned around and I say, 'Will you marry me?' Second date, now. And without batting an eye she said, 'Yes.' "
But their courtship was legitimized in the true Japanese cultural fashion of the day — with go-betweens for both families meeting in a ritualized ceremony and exchanging small gifts to make it official.
In the first years of their marriage, Maggie Inouye was the family breadwinner as her husband completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Hawai'i after his service in World War II and then earned a law degree at George Washington University.
The book also gives insight into Dan Inouye's early days of helping to build the Democratic party, noting that, at first his wife didn't understand why there were so many long nights of meetings.
"Can't you all just decide what you want to do and then come home?" she asked, he wrote in his book.
Instead of answering, Inouye invited her to sit in with them one night, and she did, sticking with the debate until around midnight, he wrote.
"Once, when I looked up from a heated conversation about the importance of block captains, Maggie lay curled up in a corner of the sofa, sound asleep," Inouye wrote. "She never complained again."
But after their only son, Daniel K. "Ken" Inouye Jr., was born, Maggie Inouye curtailed some of her campaign activities to focus on raising their child. The senator, too, felt family life was sacrosanct. Even in the whirlwind of Washington's social life, the family ate at home most nights of the week, and Maggie Inouye was not often on The Hill. That level of family privacy continued even after their son had grown up.
"She was such a private person," remembers Millie Akaka, wife of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, who has spent the past 16 years in Washington with her husband once her own children were grown.
"She stopped coming to the office so I never had a chance to really sit down with her and really have coffee. And she never came with the wives when I was here."
As a mother, Maggie Inouye was attentive and supportive, especially to son Ken's early attempts as a musician. Back in the 1980s when the young man was doing his best to become a rock 'n' roll icon with his own band, Marginal Man, filmmaker Heather Guigni, the daughter of Inouye's close aide the late Henry Guigni, remembers joking one time with Maggie Inouye about how maybe if Kenny made it big, the Inouyes could retire on his rock 'n' roll earnings.
Guigni remembers Maggie Inouye laughing with her at the idea of it. But graciously.
"If there's a southern lady description I could translate into Japanese," Guigni said, "that would be it. She was just a very wonderful person."
In addition to her husband and son, Maggie Inouye is survived by five sisters, Edith Satow of Carmarillo, Calif.; Grace Murakami of Honolulu; Betty Higashino of Orinda, Calif.; Shirley Nozoe of Honolulu; and Patricia Tyler of Sudbury, Mass. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.