Frenchy DeSoto, founding force of OHA, dies at 81 - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Frenchy DeSoto, founding force of OHA, dies at 81

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

MAKAHA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Adelaide Keanuenueokalaninuiamamao "Frenchy" DeSoto, who helped start and shaped the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, died late Friday night in her Makaha apartment of complications from pneumonia, her family announced Saturday. She was 81.

According to family and those who worked with her, DeSoto's passion for Native Hawaiian affairs may have started by being in the corridors of power. "At one time, she was a janitor at the state Capitol," said former OHA trustee Clayton Hee, now a state senator. "And she actually knew the movers and shakers from the '60s and the '70s."

Hee says that may have influenced DeSoto to become a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1978 that led to the creation of OHA, aimed at improving conditions for Native Hawaiians, and the Hawaiian community in general.

DeSoto served as the first OHA board chairperson when it was formed in 1980. She was on the board for only a year before leaving for an unsuccessful run for the state senate. She returned to the OHA board in 1986, serving until 2000.

"I think for most people, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Frenchy DeSoto have a tight connection. I don't think that's going to change," Hee said.

DeSoto had a notoriously strong personality, often using her middle finger to express her thoughts to people. Her son, former Honolulu City Councilmember John DeSoto, said that when she started out, people questioned her background, in part because of her name (she was actually Hawaiian-German). "The name didn't do it, but it was just her determination," John DeSoto said. "The determination she had, the dedication she had, and the one that takes a lot is the discipline that she kept."

DeSoto had been in poor health. She had been in a hospice, but was brought home to her apartment in Makaha one last time, just hours before she died. She leaves behind six children and several grandchildren. Services are pending.

Many of those who worked with her, even if they didn't always agree with her, still respected her. "She's very passionate, yeah?" said Hee. "She's very focused. And she's very strong and set in her beliefs.

"She set a standard. She's tough. She's one tough, tough wahine."

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