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Hawaii News | Incidental Lives

Passion for helping others inspires humanitarian travels

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Yes, Nancy Pace has spearheaded medical missions to Ethiopia to help those widowed and orphaned by AIDS. No, she and the Dalai Lama are not BFFs.

Yes, it is also true that Pace has worked to help Thai prostitutes get off the streets. No, there is no truth to the rumor that Mother Teresa once told her to take it down a notch.

And, yes, Pace really did take part in Rotary International’s polio immunization campaign in Nigeria under the protection of local police and a retinue of machine-gun-toting security guards. Alas, no, she does not stay up until the wee hours negotiating peace in the Middle East and teaching unicorns how to fly.

Scoff if you must, but it isn’t always easy to discuss Pace’s humanitarian adventures without lapsing into hyperbole or based-on-a-true-story artistic license.

The facts as we know them are these: Pace grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Her father was assistant dean of surgery at Ohio State University and the type of person who would wake at 4:30 a.m. during the winter so he could anonymously clear snow from the driveways on the block.

"He did it because that’s what good neighbors do," Pace said.

Pace’s mother was an avid community volunteer, the trusted friend people sought out first when there was a crisis.

Pace did her undergraduate studies at Vassar and earned a master’s in public health from Harvard. A couple of weeks before she was to start medical school at Cincinnati, Pace met her future husband, Mel Kaneshige.

The couple courted long distance for the three years it took Pace to complete her studies. She eventually moved to Hawaii 28 years ago to marry the love of her life and figure out how to make good on her lifelong plan to work on behalf of the world’s less fortunate.

Pace does not practice medicine in Hawaii. Rather, she works as a consultant to earn the money she needs to fund her humanitarian missions around the world. In the past 10 years she has traveled to Thailand to share food, education and medical assistance with refugees and prisoners, led Kaimuki Christian Church volunteers in a medical mission to western Kenya, served as the Global Hope Network International physician coordinator for another medical mission to Ethiopia and Kenya, and participated in that Nigeria immunization project. Last year she returned to Thailand to work with prostitutes, bring supplies to prisons, teach at a government school and conduct a medical clinic.

Pace’s work earned her the 2010 Jerry Chang Peacemaker Award from the Rotary International Hawaii District. Yet Pace measures her own success by whom she helps, inspires and empowers. She counts among her greatest accomplishments the fact that her and Mel’s two children have grown into concerned, engaged citizens of the world.

"It’s important to realize that when you have nothing, when you’re stripped of everything, what matters is connecting with other people as one human being to another."

Reach Michael Tsai at


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