KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 1,500 people were on hand at the John A. Burns School of Medicine today to celebrate the life of medical pioneer and Hawaiian activist Richard Kekuni Blaisdell. The 90-year-old Blaisdell, who died last month, helped establish the University Hawaii's medical school, joining the fledgling department as its first chair more than five decades ago.
But he's also well known as a Hawaiian sovereignty activist who mentored several generations of Hawaiian leaders. "He was three things, he was an educator, a healer and a protector. An educator who taught our students, a healer who treated patients and a protector of our well-being," said Dr. Jerris Hedges, the medical school's dean.
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka was a classmate of Blaisdell's at the Kamehameha Schools back in the early 1940s. "He was caring, responsive, curious, anxious, prompt on assignments and intelligent," Akaka said. He recalled how they were both on campus on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to guard the area behind the school from enemy attack. "Today, a pohaku monument stands mauka of the school with our names listed on it," Akaka said.
As equally as impressive as his medical career, Blaisdell was also an early force in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. "It is Kekuni who brought to attention to Congress, the Legislature, the World Court, the connection between Hawaiian health and the loss of our aina and our sovereignty," said his niece Leo Anderson Akana.
The UH Medical School said it plans to create an endowed professorship in Kekuni Blaisdell's memory.