Farewell To A Legend: Gladys Kamakakuokalani ‘Ainoa Brandt


February 2003 Ka Wai Ola Article

I dedicate this month’s column to pay tribute to a great lady, Gladys Kamakakuokalani ‘Ainoa Brandt.  To everyone who knew her she was “Aunty Gladys.”  I was one of those fortunate enough to know her and be a part of her life for a brief moment in time.  Her thoughts, her wit, and her great sense of humor made an important difference in my life.

In her lifetime, Aunty Gladys was raised with the children of the royal family and witnessed the end of the monarch era and Queen Lili’uokalani’s funeral.  Aunty Gladys was one of the precious few of our Kupuna who witnessed these events and lived to see the new millennium.  Most people will write about Aunty Gladys’ many achievements as an educator, but her contributions go beyond education and into the arts and public service.  She served on the boards of countless community organizations and was active in the cancer society until she passed away.  Most of all, Aunty Gladys should be noted for her inspiration, energy and tireless commitment to Hawaiian causes.

[In 1997,] at the age of 91, Aunty Gladys was appointed by Governor Ben Cayetano to finish out the term of OHA Trustee Billie Beamer.  Not only did she keep up with us, but she had the energy and productivity of board members half her age.  Her presence on our board table was felt by board members and administrative staff alike.  Aunty Gladys’ contributions to OHA included her leadership on OHA’s Education Foundation and the Kupuna Health Task Force.   She also served as OHA’s policy chair.  In 2000, she was appointed to the board once again by the Cayetano Administration as an interim Trustee and served for two months until the November elections.

Aunty Gladys was always there to do her part when called upon, especially when it came to Hawaiian issues.  I will always cherish the wonderful hours I spent with her as she shared her famous stories.  In October of 2002, I asked, “Aunty Gladys, why haven’t you ever written a book about all of your experiences?”  There was a pause, and then she said, “Others have tried to get me to do that but, if I did, I would have to tell the whole truth and name names for the book to be truthful and I think even though much time has passed, it would open old wounds and I feel it is best to let the past be the past.”  There was a sense of sadness in her voice.

On December 20, 2002, I called Aunty Gladys to wish her a happy holiday season and told her that I would be spending the holidays on the mainland.  She said, “Great, have a good time, but let me share this with you:  Recently I had dinner at a good friend’s home and they were all Republicans who proceeded to chide me about the commercial I had done for the Democratic candidate for Governor.  Well I said with a straight face to them, ‘Did you hear that there will be no nativity scene in Washington DC this year?’  And they responded, ‘Really?’  ‘Is it because of 9-11?’  No, I replied, ‘it’s because they have a whole stable of Jackasses but they can’t find three wise men!’”

This is the wonderful Gladys Brandt I will remember.  Someone who could laugh at herself.  Someone who had a wit that could match the best scholars.  Someone who loved her Hawaiian people and gave of herself without complaint or reward.  I will miss you Aunty Gladys.  I wish you God speed.