Bennett "Pinky" Thompson (1924-2001):
A Life of
is constantly on my mind," Pinky told a reporter in 1984,
"whether I'm on a plane headed for Washington D.C. or at a canoe
practice is 'How can I do more to influence the process that will affect
the future of our Hawaiian people?' "
was a social worker, a land use planner, state administrator under
Governor Burns, a trustee of the Bishop Estate, president of the
Polynesian Voyaging society, and one of the founders of Alu Like and
Papa Ola Lokahi � among many other achievements. Throughout his career
he was guided by the wisdom of his ancestors, finding in his Hawaiian
heritage ancient values with modern day applications.
importance of family was nurtured at an early age by Pinky's parents who
took in 'at-risk foster children.' "I grew up living with kids who
were less fortunate," Pinky explained, "and we became close. I
felt their pain. I wanted to find a way to help and that began my
process of entering into social work."
of ancestry was the centerpiece of Pinky's strategy for the renewal of
Hawaiian health and spirit. As State Administrator, he helped publish a
textbook exploring Hawaiian culture and as Director of the Queen
Liliuokalani Trust he helped create a book entitled "Nana I Ke Kumu
� Look to the Source" � to show how traditional cultural
practices, such as ho'oponopono, are resilient ways of achieving health
and pride today. As the Polynesian Voyaging Society's president, he
guided Hokule'a's voyages throughout the vast Pacific to reunite an
ancient ohana and ignite pride among Pacific peoples everywhere. "Hokule'a
sails to remind all Hawaiians of their powerful heritage as a seafaring
people," Pinky said. "The more we learn about our ancestors �
the more we regain our pride as a strong people � the more we will be
able to move forward with confidence and discipline."
his life, Pinky followed the Hawaiian precept of 'Imi 'Ike � seeking
knowledge. In 1963, for example, he worked with Bishop Museum's Dr. Alan
Howard in a three-year study of a uniquely Hawaiian understanding of
community. At KSBE he guided research to improve the condition of Native
Hawaiians, and in 1981, he was chairman of the Native Hawaiian Education
Commission which examined federal and state educational programs for
Hawaiian youth and recommended improvements.
for the environment � the spirit of malama � was another guiding
value. As head of Hawai'i's Land Use Commission, Pinky wrote an article
showing how the new law had roots in the ancient Hawaiian tradition of
living in harmony with the 'aina. At KSBE, he developed programs for
reforesting estate land, involving schoolchildren in the process. And in
1995, he envisioned the Voyaging Society's Malama Hawai'i program to
increase environmental awareness.
carry out his vision for a healthy and vigorous Hawai'i, Pinky created
partnerships � a wide-ranging 'ohana of people and resources. In 1974
he joined with Hawai'i's congressional delegation to assure that
Hawaiians were included in federal programs funded for Native Americans.
"Pinky's testimony before congressional committees was moving in
its sincerity and demanded federal action," remembers Senator
Daniel K. Inouye. "He became the catalyst for many federal
delegation was pleased to follow his lead." As trustee, he wove
together the resources of KSBE with those of state and federal
government to reach Native Hawaiians with an array of nurturing
programs. Pinky believed in Lokomaika'i � sharing. In 1974, when he
became a KSBE Trustee, "�we looked around and saw that, although
the Hawaiian children in Kamehameha were doing well, the vast majority
of Native Hawaiian children were in public schools and they were not
doing well," Pinky recalled. His careful study of Bernice Pauahi
Bishop's will revealed that her intent was to benefit all the children
of Hawaiian ancestry, including those in public schools, so he began
extending the Estate's programs throughout the state.
years later, KSBE had expanded from a single focus--serving about 2700
students in grades K-12 on its Kapalama campus � to an organization
with three educational units � campus, extension and research � which
offered more than 35 separate programs affecting more than 40,000
individuals annually. It was a promising beginning that continued to
unfold under his guidance.
vision for a healthy Hawaiian people was holistic � encompassing a
concept of education and caring that began at birth. His training in
early childhood development convinced him that the first three years of
a child's life were critical to a deep sense of self worth. To foster
that, Pinky helped create KSBE's numerous center-based pre-schools, and
was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for parent-infant
education and traveling preschools throughout the state.
took risks � constantly seeking new ways to help Hawaiians. One example
was KEEP � the Kamehameha Schools Early Education Project. "The
program is based," Pinky explained, "on the concept that
children of Native Hawaiian ancestry often learn better from each other
than from adults." KEEP classrooms were flexible and interactive �
designed with multiple stations where students learned by actively
participating with each other and their teachers.
Pinky was especially concerned for the welfare of Native Hawaiians �
his aloha for all people transcended divisiveness. Voyaging aboard
Hokule'a is one example of his belief in human unity. "Our canoes
have been envisioned, maintained, and sailed by all of Hawai'i's
people," he often said, "regardless of race or religion. We
must remember that we are all one people."
vision of Olakino Maika'i � living a healthy life � united mind, body
and spirit. One transcendent moment in his life occurred just before he
jumped off for the Normandy invasion when a Catholic chaplain helped him
rediscover his ancestral spirituality. "He asked us to call the
supreme powers of our families and our personal beliefs to join us that
night," Pinky recalled. "From that moment on I found comfort
in my Akua and my 'Aumakua as well as in God."
improve the mental and physical health of Hawaiians, Pinky helped found
Papa Ola Lokahi in 1988. Continuing and refining his concept of
partnerships, POL became an umbrella organization to unite care-giving
institutions throughout Hawaii. Not surprisingly, one goal was to
preserve traditional healing practices. Pinky expressed his abiding
belief in a "helping hand" � not a "hand out" � in
the organization's mission statement: "...to assist Hawaiian
natives who are committed to achieving their potential in caring for
themselves, their families and communities."
president of PVS, Pinky's vision united past, present and future by
reaffirming that traditional Polynesian values applied universally
across time and space. "Before our ancestors set out to find a new
island," he explained, "they had to have a vision of that
island over the horizon. They made a plan for achieving that vision.
They prepared themselves physically and mentally and were willing to
experiment, to try new things. They took risks. And on the voyage they
bound each other with aloha so they could together overcome the risks
and achieve their vision. You find these same values throughout the
world � seeking, planning, experimenting, taking risks and the
importance caring for each other."
same principles that we used in the past," he often said, "are
the ones that we use today and that we will use into the future. No
matter what culture we are, or what race, these are values that work for
Low January 1, 2002