Abigail Kawananakoa, alii, and a lifelong champion of Native Hawaiian causes, dies at 96

She dedicated a large portion of her wealth to helping Native Hawaiian causes, including Iolani Palace.
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 8:30 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2022 at 4:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian royal heiress Abigail Kawananakoa, an alii, and a revered philanthropist who used her vast wealth to support Native Hawaiian culture and causes, died Sunday at 96. Her death was announced in the Hawaiian language at Iolani Palace on Monday morning.

This is a translation of that announcement:

“With profound sadness, the Kawananakoa Family, the Hale O Na Alii O Hawaii and Iolani Palace announces the passing of Her Royal Highness, Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa at 6:45 p.m.

We join each other in a period of mourning. Please allow the Kawananakoa Family this time.

Services for the Princess are being coordinated; when plans are finalized, they will be shared. We place before you this manao with mournful aloha.”


The cause of Kawananakoa’s death was not discussed, but she had been struggling with her health.

“She was the one who funded the preservation work,” said Bishop Museum Historian DeSoto Brown. “And I think that’s something that definitely she inherited through her lineage,

Added former OHA trustee Rowena Akana: “She’s just a treasure that we’ve lost that we will never, ever get back,”

Following the announcement, Gov. Josh Green announced flags would be flown at half-staff at the state Capitol building and all state offices until Sunday.

“Jaime and I are deeply saddened by the loss of Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa,” Green said, in a statement Monday.

“Abigail bore the weight of her position with dignity and humility, enriched the lives of everyone she touched, and like so many Aliʻi who came before her, she has left a legacy dedicated to her people in perpetuity.”

Kawananakoa died at her Nuuanu home with her wife, Veronica, and her closest friends at her side. “Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people and I will miss her with all of my heart,” her wife said.

Kawananakoa held no formal title but was a living reminder of Hawaii’s monarchy and a symbol of Hawaiian national identity that endured after the kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893.

“She was always called princess among Hawaiians because Hawaiians have acknowledged that lineage,” Kimo Alama Keaulana, assistant professor of Hawaiian language and studies at Honolulu Community College, said in a 2018 interview.“Hawaiians hold dear to genealogy. And so genealogically speaking, she is of high royal blood.”

He called her “the last of our alii.”

“She epitomizes what Hawaiian royalty is ― in all its dignity and intelligence and art,” he added.

James Campbell, Kawananakoa’s great-grandfather, was an Irish businessman who made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and one of Hawaii’s largest landowners.

He married Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine Bright. Their daughter, Abigail Campbell Kawananakoa, married Prince David Kawananakoa, who was named an heir to the throne.

After the prince died, his widow adopted young Abigail.

Born in Honolulu in 1926, Kawananakoa was educated at Punahou School.

She also attended an American school in Shanghai and graduated from the all-female Notre Dame High School in Belmont, California, where she was a boarding student.

As an only child of an only child, Kawananakoa received more Campbell money than anyone else and amassed a trust valued at about $215 million.

She funded a host of Native Hawaiian and other causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposing Honolulu’s rail transit project, supporting protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, donating items owned by King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani for public display, and maintaining Iolani Palace.

In the final years of her life, she was tied up in a legal battle over her massive fortune, even taking the stand in 2020. The battle over control of her trust began when a judge approved her then-attorney, Jim Wright, as a trustee after she suffered a stroke.

She claimed she wasn’t impaired, fired Wright in 2007, and married Veronica Gail Worth, her partner of 20 years. A judge ruled that Kawananakoa was unable to manage her property and business affairs because she was impaired.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.