WASHINGTON — Many political figures and organizations that have worked with Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii) are eulogizing him following the first-term congressman’s death on July 20 at the age of 49 after battling cancer for nine months.
Following are some of the statements that have been issued.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: “I was saddened to learn of the passing of Congressman Mark Takai. Congressman Takai served the people of Hawaii and the nation from the State Capitol in Honolulu, to the halls of Congress, to the deserts of Kuwait, where he served as an Army national guardsman. As a National Guard officer, he served with distinction for 17 years, almost to the day. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he vigorously promoted the interests of our nation and the men and women of our military. On behalf of the department, I offer our condolences to his wife, Sami, his family and the people of Hawaii.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii): “This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark. Throughout his life, he was all about serving the people of Hawaii. He gave so much, and had so much more yet to give. My condolences to his wife Sami, his children, his parents, and his whole ohana, whose pride and support meant everything to Mark. This is a sad day for all of Hawaii.”
Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii): “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend and colleague, Mark Takai. We have lost a great public servant who dedicated his life to making Hawaii and our nation a better place. We will miss him dearly.”
Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki: “Mark was a thoughtful and caring public servant and a good friend to all us in the State House. To say that he will be missed is not just a cliché but a heavy and sad reality. As much as Mark had accomplished in his full life, there was so much more he wanted to do and would have done — for himself and his family, and for all us here in Hawaii.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell: “Upon hearing this sad news, my immediate thoughts were with Mark and his entire family. I was lucky to have worked with Mark in the State House and the commitment and dedication he had for his country, his state and Hawaii many diverse communities was obvious to all. Whether on deployment with the Hawaii National Guard, debating national security issues in Congress, or simply providing a helping hand for various community projects, Mark served with vigor and energy, and his presence and sound reasoning will be sorely missed.”
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi: “Congressman Mark Takai was a good, kind, gentle man. He was an admirable father and husband, and a humble servant leader. Mark was a champion athlete and a champion for the people of Hawaii … Mark’s loss is a big loss for all of us who call Hawaii home.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi: “The passing of Mark Takai has left us all heartbroken. He was a tremendous public servant and cared so deeply about his constituents in Hawaii that instead of being sworn in only in Washington, D.C., he invited me to Hawaii so all of his community could attend and witness his swearing in as a member of Congress. Even in the face of cancer, Mark was a courageous man. As they say in Hawaii, mahalo, Mark.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus: “I’m heartbroken by the loss of my colleague and friend Mark Takai. We served together on the Small Business Committee and in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and I was always struck by his spirit. He was a patriot and veteran who cared so much about bettering our country and the lives of others. I already miss my friend.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles): “My wife Betty and I are deeply saddened by the passing away of our friend Mark Takai. It was an honor and joy to serve with Mark in Congress and to experience our freshman term together. Mark was a veteran, a patriot, and a tremendous public servant. Most of all, he was a loving husband to his wife Sami and a devoted father to their children. We will miss you, Mark.”
Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), chair of California Asian and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus: “The members of the California API Legislative Caucus are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Mark Takai. He was truly a champion for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at home and in Washington, D.C.
“From his service to our country in the Hawaii National Guard and in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, to his efforts to reunite Filipino American veterans with their loved ones, our community has lost an incredible champion.
“His leadership as a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in service to the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community continues to inspire us as we strive to honor his spirit of aloha.”
Floyd Mori, president and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies: “We are saddened at the passing of Rep. Takai. He was a shining star in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community as an example of commitment to public service.”
Japanese American Citizens League: “JACL mourns the passing of Congressman Mark Takai. We are grateful for Rep. Takai’s support for issues affecting the Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
“In 2015, during the 50th-anniversary commemoration of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, a group of JACL youth gathered in Selma to be part of the re-enactment of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. During the ceremonies, Rep. Takai took the time to meet with the JACL youth delegation to relate the story of how Dr. Martin Luther King and others came to wear leis during the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965.
“The presence of the leis affirmed the participation of Asian Americans in this important civil rights milestone, and it conveyed the message of peace and brotherhood during those tumultuous times.
“We are grateful for the way Rep. Takai inspired our youth and provided reflection for imagining a brighter future.”
Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii: “We mourn the passing of Congressman Mark Takai as a friend, ally, and member of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii ohana. As a member of the Hawaii State Legislature, Rep. Takai supported our efforts to preserve the Honouliuli Internment Camp site and helped establish the Honouliuli State Advisory Board. He took a leadership role in creating the Fred Korematsu Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day in Hawaii.
“As a member of Congress, Congressman Takai continued to advocate for the preservation of Honouliuli and together, we celebrated President Obama’s recognition of the Honouliuli National Monument. Earlier this year, in February 2016, Congressman Takai wanted his local and Washington, D.C. staff to understand the unique history of Japanese Americans in Hawaii and at his request, we organized a tour for his staff to the Honouliuli National Monument.
“His life and work was guided by the values rooted in our Japanese American cultural traditions and the spirit of aloha. We are deeply grateful for his friendship and service to community.”
Takai was born on July 1, 1967, and raised on Oahu. He graduated from Pearl City High School and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he was a collegiate swimmer and also served as student body president.
Takai served in the Hawaii National Guard for 17 years. He was a lieutenant colonel and worked as a preventive medical officer. He deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009.
He served as the president of the Hawaii National Guard Association in 2012-2013. He also led the effort to bring the national conference for the National Guard Association of the United States to Hawaii in September 2013.
A 20-year member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives before being elected to Congress, Takai represented the district that included the communities of Aiea and Pearl City. He was first elected as a legislator in 1994 at age 27.
Takai was elected to Congress in 2014 and served on the House Armed Forces Committee and the House Committee on Small Business. He was one of 14 Asian Americans serving in Congress.
He represented Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which includes much of Oahu and is one of the only predominantly Asian American districts in the United States. The district also has major academic institutions like the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the major transportation hubs of Honolulu Harbor and Honolulu International Airport, industrial and warehouse cores, the tourism center of Waikiki, and military facilities such as Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam and Fort Shafter.
On May 19, Takai announced that he would serve out the remainder of his term, but not run for re-election after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“It has been my greatest privilege to serve the people of Hawaii for the past 20 years,” he said. “As your congressman, I made it my mission to always put Hawaii and her people first. In life, we often make plans for ourselves. I had envisioned a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, building up the seniority and influence that were key to Sen. [Daniel] Inouye’s ability to deliver for Hawaii. But as often happens, we find ourselves on a different journey than what we had planned.
“When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, my family and I resolved to fight it head-on and with deep personal faith. Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. I had truly hoped to aggressively fight this cancer while seeking re-election, but I recently learned that my cancer has spread.
“Putting Hawaii and its people first means that I must regretfully withdraw from my 2016 re-election race for Congress and suspend my campaign.”
Takai continued serving the people of Hawaii and the United States until he passed away.
In addition to his wife, Sami, son, Matthew, and daughter, Kaila, survivors include his parents, Erik and Naomi; father- and mother-in-law, Gary and Ellen Kai; brother, Ross; and sisters, Nadine and Nikki.
(Source for biography: Mark Takai Archives)