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Naturalist founded Sierra Club in Hawaii

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About 38 years ago, Lorin Tarr Gill took Samuel Gon to the barren summit of Mauna Loa, opening the teenager’s eyes to the unique environment of Hawaii.

"He refused to teach me the plants on the way up the mountain because it would be too confusing, so we hiked all the way up to the top," said Gon, senior scientist and cultural adviser for the Nature Conservancy. "He taught me the plants, one by one, as they made their appearance as you’re coming down the mountain.

"He was the one who awakened me to a real appreciation of the native plants and animals and ecosystems in Hawaii and the need to conserve them that led me to a career in conservation," said Gon, 54.

Gill, a naturalist, founder of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club in the 1960s and considered by many as the father of environmental education in Hawaii, died of cancer Friday at his home in Pohai Nani in Kaneohe. He was 82.

As director of environmental education at the Moanalua Gardens Foundation in the ’80s and ’90s, Gill helped create the curricula and outreach programs to teach geology, natural history and botany to schoolchildren.

As a social worker and director of the Palama Settlement in the 1950s and 1960s, Gill introduced thousands of youngsters to camping and hiking.

Although he had no children of his own, Gill nurtured many Hawaii youth who showed an interested in the environment, some of whom, like Gon, went into the environmental field.

Gill began the local Sierra Club’s High School Hikers Program and the Hawaii Service Trip Program, which was initially for college students.

"It was his belief the way you protected the environment was to educate the young and what was in their own back yard, so when they were old enough to understand it, they would protect it," said Ken Kupchak, longtime friend and early Sierra Club leader. "A lot of kids went into protecting the environment."

Gill was also like a second father to brother Tom Gill’s six children.

Gary Gill, son of former Lt. Gov. Tom Gill, said, "When my dad was in the heat of politics, my uncle often would take us on trips to the neighbor islands," trekking the Na Pali Coast, Mauna Loa and Haleakala. Their appreciation for native plants and animals and the natural and cultural history of the islands was shaped by their uncle, he said.

Gary Gill attributes his uncle’s interest in cultural uses of native plants and Hawaiian history, in part, to Lorin Gill’s mother, also named Lorin Tarr Gill, a writer for the Bishop Museum (as well as the Star-Bulletin) whose museum books and periodicals were at his disposal.

Annette Kaohelaulii, 71, a former Sierra Club outings leader, said, "Lorin was an inspiration to me. I think that was Lorin’s greatest gift: He could share what he knew. I think he was an inspiration to a lot of people."

His teaching ability was enhanced by his photographic memory, she said.

Rick Barboza, co-owner of Hui Ku Maoli Ola Native Plant Specialists and founder and director of Papahana Kuaola, a nonprofit dedicated to natural history and cultural education of which Gill was a board member, was amazed at his ability to retain knowledge, even of the obscure locations of plants in the wild.

Barboza said Gill was in his 70s when he accompanied Gill to his favorite hiking spot, Wailau Valley, Molokai.

Gill’s commitment to protect native plants also led to the conveyance of 4,000 acres of conservation land in the Honouliuli Preserve to the state, Gary Gill said.

Born in Honolulu, Lorin Gill graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1946 and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Hawaii.

He is survived by hanai son Harry Lee Kwai and the family of late hanai son Pat Murata.

Memorial services and a celebration of his life will be held 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at Palama Settlement.

Contributions may be made in Gill’s name to the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, P.O. Box 2577, Honolulu, HI 96803.


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