Courtesy University of Hawaiʻi School of Medicine
Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, founding chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi School of Medicine, died of respiratory failure February 12.

Native Hawaiian Doctor and Sovereignty Activist Walks On

UH Med Now

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, founding chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi School of Medicine, died of respiratory failure February 12 at The Queen’s Medical Center. Surrounded by immediate family, Blaisdell passed with peace and dignity. He was 90 years old.

“Dr. Blaisdell is considered a treasure to every class which has ever graduated from our medical school,” said Jerris R. Hedges, Dean of John A. Burns School of Medicine.

An extraordinary commitment to the people of Hawaiʻi
Dr. Blaisdell was revered as a kauka, or healer, in our State’s Native Hawaiian community, and as a tireless advocate for learning and increased opportunities for Hawaiʻi citizens. In 1983, Dr. Blaisdell helped author a groundbreaking paper that called attention to declining health among Native Hawaiians in their native land. His scholarship and leadership eventually led to legislation and considerable funding from the U.S. Congress for programs that directly impact the health of Native Hawaiians.

A 1942 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Dr. Blaisdell became an expert in the medical fields of hematology and pathology. He served in the U.S. military and was appointed to the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following World War II, to study the affects of radiation on people exposed to the atomic bombs exploded in those cities. While in Japan, he adopted a war orphan who was a little over 1 year old.

“I was single when I met little Mitsunori,” said Dr. Blaisdell. “I took him back with me to the University of Chicago where I was working. And within a year, I met a lovely nurse, Irene Saito, a Waimalalo girl. “We were married and Mitsunori, we called him Mitch, was best man at our wedding.”

In 1966, Dr. Blaisdell was recruited from the University of Chicago to become the first chair of medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi. He served as Chair until 1969, and as Professor of Medicine until he retired in 2010. Upon his retirement, he served as Professor Emeritus until his death.

In May of 2014, Native Hawaiian faculty from various parts of the University of Hawaiʻi joined their voices in a special *oli, or chant, to salute Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, as he was presented an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The celebration, during the 2014 Advanced Degrees Commencement Ceremony at the Stan Sheriff Center, honored Dr. Blaisdell for his contributions to the University of Hawaiʻi medical school, hundreds of Native Hawaiian physicians, and service to the United States.

Dr. Blaisdell is survived by son, Mitch, daughter, Dr. Nalani Blaisdell-Brennan, and Grandchildren: Melissa Blaisdell, Billy Brennan, Malia Brennan and Jacob Blaisdell.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made on line to the Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell Proposed Chair in Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (account #127-2010-2). (Please make your check payable to UH Foundation).

*The full oli text, in English and in Native Hawaiian.
Oli in Honor of Kekuni, by Dr. Keawe Kaholokula, (In English:)

An enlightenment…[1]
A torch burning like no other
In Kapālama, from Kilolani[2]
A desire for learning was sparked
A path to excellence was undertaken

A tree (also reference to medicine)…[3]
A tree (Dr.) that stands like no other
A bud, a shoot, growing forth
Until his roots were firmly planted in his birth sands
A leaf, a branch, a mature tree now stands strong

An expert (especially warrior)…
An expert with beauty like no other
The foundation has been covered with many Lehua[4]
A fine Lehua tree that attracts many birds
In the forest, in the uplands, in Nu‘uanu

A leader…
A leader that leads like no other
From Hawai’i to Kaua`i
He is like a center post that keeps the house standing
From our ancestors comes his strength to do so

A voice…
A voice that beckons like no other
His voice echoes throughout our Nation
A call goes out
He calls to all to stand firm

A man…
A man who distinguishes himself like no other
Enormous is his presence, but humble is his demeanor
A great admiration is bestowed upon him by all
In the waokanaka he resides [5]

Live, live, live long!

[1] Lama is a type of wood used to build the enclosures of ancient schools of knowledge.  In fact, Kapālama means lama enclosure.  Also, lama wood was used in medicine and placed in hula altars because its name suggested enlightenment.

[2] Kilolani here refers to Kilolani Mitchell who was the Kamehameha teacher that inspired Kekuni.  Kilolani means “soothsayer who predicts the future by observing the sky.”

[3] This part of the oli symbolizes his development as a physician and healer.

[4] This phrase refers to the many experts (Lehua) who Kekuni has mentored over the years, both in medicine and in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

[5] This phrase speaks to his concerns of the common kānaka and his humility.  The waokanaka is the uplands were humans dwell.  It is also the name of the area where Kekuni resides.

In the Hawaiian Language:

He Lama…
He Lama hō‘ā ho‘okahi
I Kapālama, mai Kilolani
He kilohana ka ‘ike ‘ia ‘ana
O ka Lama kū o ka loea

He Lā’au…
He Lā‘au kū ho‘okahi
He mu‘o, he kupu, e ulu a‘e
Pa‘a ka mole i ke one hānau
He lau, he lālā, he kumu pa‘a

He Lehua…
He Lehua u‘i ho‘okahi
Pa‘apū ‘ia aku i ke kāhua
He kumu muimuia i ka manu
I ka waokele, i uka, i Nu‘uanu
He Alaka‘i…
He Alaka‘i ka‘i ho‘okahi
Mai moku Keawe a Kahelelani
He pouhana nui o ka hale,
Mai nā kūpuna ke ko‘o pa‘a

He Leo…
He Leo hea ho‘okahi
Wawā ‘ia ka Lāhui i Hawai‘i
He lono i ke kāhea
Heahea aku la, e ‘onipa‘a
He Kanaka…
He Kanaka hano ho‘okahi
Nui ke alo, Ha‘aha‘a ke ‘ano
He aloha nui aku na pōki‘i
I Waokanaka ka noho ‘ana
E Ola…
E ola! E ola! E ola mau e!
No ka hanohano o Kekuni!

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