HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Sen. Gil Kahele, a longtime public servant on the Big Island before taking on a statewide office in 2011, has died at 73.
The Hilo native was appointed by then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2011 to represent the Big Island's District 1 in the state Legislature. He subsequently won re-election in 2012.
Kahele most recently served as the chairman of the Senate Tourism and International Affairs Committee as well as vice chairman of Higher Education and the Arts. He was also a member of the Senate committees on Judiciary and Labor Education.
He was absent from the first day of the 2016 legislative session last week after being hospitalized for an undisclosed reason.
Hawaii lawmakers remembered Kahele on Tuesday as a down-to-earth family man who loved his community -- and fought for it.
House Speaker Joseph Souki said Kahele's "contributions as a native Hawaiian, a Big Island resident and public servant to the entire state will be greatly missed."
The seven-member Hawaii Island delegation also released a statement, saying that Kahele was "truly a keiki o ka aina, and a gentleman who always had others in his heart before his own concerns."
The governor and lieutenant governor also issued statements, calling Kahele a warm, caring man with high principles.
"He was a dedicated public servant who spent the last few years working for the good of his beloved community," Gov. David Ige said, in a statement. "He was a respected and influential leader both in the Legislature and in his hometown community of Hilo."
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono called Kahele a "steadfast" advocate for Hawaii Island residents affected by Tropical Storm Iselle and the Puna lava flow.
"I will remember Gil for his kindness and tireless work on behalf of the people of Hawaii Island and our state," she said, in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Kahele was "one of the kindest, most decent, most caring public servants that I have ever known."
"This is a sad day and he will be missed."
Before entering public service, Kahele worked for the federal government for more than three decades, retiring in 2000 as the director of public works at the Pohakuloa Training Area.
Kahele was also active on several boards, service as a member of the Hawaii County Police Commission, the Na Ala Hele Trails advisory council, and East Hawaii chairman for the Hawaii Democratic Party.
On his website, Kahele said he was born in a "grass shack by the sea" in the fishing village of Milolii, and grew up in Hilo. After graduating from Hilo High, he joined the Marines.
A public memorial will be set up today in the state Senate chambers to honor Kahele. It will be accessible Wednesday from 12:30 to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A condolence book -- which will later be delivered to his family -- will be available for the public to sign.