I just got the news that my former boss U.S. Senator Dan Inouye, the 2nd longest serving U.S. Senator (elected 50 years ago in Nov. 1962) has passed away from respiratory complications at the Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was the highest ranking Asian American politician in U.S. history and also still the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
He was 88 years old and spent almost his entire life and political career in Washington D.C. My heart is saddened in my memories of the Senator — a truly principled man, a good boss, a loving father of musician Ken. He was married to Maggie Awamura of Honolulu who passed away in 2006, and then to Irene Hirano of Los Angeles, who is the former chief executive officer of the Japanese American National Museum.
Senator Inouye served honorably in the 442nd Regimental Combat team during WWII and lost his right arm thereby in 1945.
But he didn’t appear “disabled” to any of us who knew him.
I worked as one of his Legislative Aides on Capitol Hill decades ago, and was probably one of the first women lawyers on his staff. We all handled various issues for him (tracking legislation, introducing bills, research on topics) as well as constituent services of responding to letters and visits from voters from Hawaii.
One of my topics areas was civil rights and so we worked together on creation/passage of legislation that created the National Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Act, which eventually lead to reparations for the innocent Japanese Americans who were wrongfully imprisoned in U.S. camps during WWII. I remember how committed he was to the issue and how we discussed various strategies to pass that legislation. Our bill also included the Alaskan Aleuts who were also put away into camps, as the Senator firmly believed in civil rights for all.
Many Americans remember him for his brave role in the Senate Watergate Committee hearings in the 1970′s. I remember him telling us staffers about the comment he muttered about counsel John Ehrlichman (one of President Nixon’s aides) — “What a liar” is what the press heard, but Inouye maintained he said “What a lawyer.”
Last year the Senator proudly mailed me a commemorative coin for being elected President pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in the presidential line of succession after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
More info at wikipedia.
Farewell Senator, aloha ‘oe (until we meet again).