Saying aloha to 'Iolani icon
• Photo gallery: Eddie Hamada funeral
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
They came from New York, Utah, Hilo, Pukalani, Lā'ie ... fresh-faced twenty-somethings and gray-haired octogenarians ... Samoans, Asians, black, white, men, women ...
Visitation for Eddie Hamada's noon memorial service yesterday was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., and the first visitors showed up at 8:15. By 9, the line stretched down the aisle and out the door at 'Iolani School's St. Alban's Chapel.
At 10:55 a.m., there were maybe 300 hundred people snaked in single-file waiting for their turn to pay respects to Hamada, the 'Iolani icon who died Jan. 3 from natural causes at age 81.
The engaging, humble man who was a friend to everyone ... brought everyone together one last time.
"He always greeted people as if they were the most important person he knew," said Larry Cundiff, who was a longtime assistant football coach to Hamada at 'Iolani. "He was loved throughout the state."
The school anticipated a gathering of multitudes based on the popularity of Hamada, who was 'Iolani's football coach and athletic director spanning four decades from the 1960s until 1992.
When a photographic portrait of Hamada was taken to a printer to be enlarged for the funeral, the business owner — who had no known 'Iolani connection — recognized the name and immediately waived the fee.
Non-alumni from the North Shore to Waipahu asked about the services.
The school set up rows of folding chairs outside St. Alban's — which seats about 500 — and pulled down a movie screen in the adjacent cafeteria so an overflow crowd could watch the service on closed-circuit TV.
"I'm one of his many fans," said Junior Ah You, a former football and basketball standout from Kahuku High School who drove in from Lā'ie. "Even guys who played against (Hamada's teams) were deeply touched by him. Whenever I came into town, he would take the time to put his arms around me and tell me how good I was doing. He was so humble ... He was not a big person physically, but he was a giant in stature because of the way he made you feel, and all these people here are a testament to that."
John Fink, a television executive, said the memorial service was a way to "celebrate (Hamada's) legacy."
"This shows what he meant to the people of Hawai'i," Fink said. "Eddie was a difference-maker, the kind of difference-maker this state needs more of."
Said Mayor Mufi Hannemann: "He had tremendous respect from everybody, everybody revered him. Not just within the school, but from all over the state."
During the service, 'Iolani headmaster Val Iwashita noted how "supporting others came naturally" to Hamada.
"He showed us how to live," Iwashita said.
Radio personality Larry Price, Hamada's close friend, said people should now "concentrate on what we gained from him."
"He has a legacy beyond counting, and his gifts were so precious, we cannot keep them to ourselves, we must pass them on to others," Price said. "He was a shining example, a beacon for all of us."
Throughout his career as coach and athletic director, Hamada emphasized the "One Team" philosophy instilled by his own coach at 'Iolani, the legendary Father Kenneth A. Bray. "One Team" is now the school's mantra, stressing the principles of discipline, respect, teamwork, humility and unselfishness.
"Eddie took 'One Team' to another level," Cundiff said. "Eddie, we know now that Father Bray has his arms around you, in appreciation for what you did for 'Iolani."
The Rev. David Coon, 'Iolani's headmaster during much of Hamada's career, said Hamada was "a constant factor" during the school's "state of transition" in the 1960s.
"He emphasized that the school needed more students who represented a cross-section of the community," Coon said. "Every school needs somebody like Ed Hamada, someone who can relate to every student, no matter their social poise or academic ability. There were students who came here into a new environment, but by the end of their first year they were right at home, 'Iolani was their home, thanks to Ed."
Hamada's physician, Dr. Steven Dang, said he noticed right away that Hamada was "part John Wayne, part Santa Claus."
"He could kick your okole," Dang said, "but make you feel warm and fuzzy about it at the same time."
Dale Lee, who played for Hamada in the mid-1960s, said his coach practiced what he preached.
" 'One Team' seemingly was a blueprint for the way he lived," Lee said.
Hamada's wife, Cynthia, described the service as "utterly beautiful."
"But Eddie would have had a fit if he saw all those people standing in line," she said. "He will always be remembered. We were all blessed to have known him."