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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

She did it all for her Hilo

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Dorothy Thompson

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The world of hula owes one of its biggest debts to a woman who rarely danced. Dorothy Thompson "Auntie Dottie" to almost everyone was the driving force behind the annual Merrie Monarch Festival that she co-founded. Best known for its centerpiece hula competition, the festival has done more to boost the stature of Hawai'i's dominant art form than any other single event.

Her death on Friday saddened everyone preparing for the competition in a few weeks. And no place on Earth responded with deeper grief than Hilo, which reeled again when one of its pre-eminent hula masters, Rae Fonseca, succumbed to a heart attack the next day.

Thompson, known to be decisive and tough, fiercely loved Hilo, which swells in population and pride for the weeklong festival every year. Whenever someone suggested that the event should move to Honolulu where there were more hotels and bigger performance venues and people often suggested it Thompson would shut them down fast.

They'd tell her she could raise more money by moving it or boosting ticket sales, but neither option interested her. The Merrie Monarch is a gift to Hilo, she'd say, and it was staying put.

Her family says this year's festival will go on with its planned tribute to the late George Naope, its co-founder, rather than memorializing Auntie Dottie. But hula people are nothing if not irrepressible. This year, count on the dancers, Hilo folk especially, to let their aloha show.