|When Governor Neil Abercrombie was a Congressman, he attended a presentation in August, 2007, by Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa on the Kalaupapa Memorial where he met with old friend Bernard Punikai‘a, Honorary Chairman of the Board of the ‘Ohana, and Kuulei Bell, first President of the ‘Ohana. Photo by Valerie Monson
Bernard Punikai‘a, who proposed establishing Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa and served as Honorary Chairman of the Board, had friends from every walk of life. One of his closest friends was Neil Abercrombie, their bond cemented during the struggle to save Hale Mohalu. Abercrombie, then a State Legislator, marched alongside Bernard and other Kalaupapa residents and supporters during rallies at the State Capitol where he echoed their cries for justice.
Abercrombie was later elected to Congress, but he never forgot Bernard.
When the two of them would attend the same event, Abercrombie often drove Bernard home in his famous checkered cab. Just before Bernard died in early 2009, Abercrombie and his wife, Nancie Caraway, spent time with him at Leahi Hospital.
When Abercrombie was elected as Hawaii’s next Governor, he delivered an acceptance speech where he singled out a few important people who had changed his life.
Bernard Punikai‘a was one of those saluted.
“We’re thinking of Bernard Punikai‘a,” announced Abercrombie. “The Catholic Church has its newest Saint in Saint Damien, but we had a Saint who walked among us and his name was Bernard Punikai‘a from Kalaupapa.”
Mahalo, Governor Abercrombie, for reminding all of Hawaii about the greatness of your friend, Bernard Punikai‘a.