At a memorial service fittingly observed as much by laughter as tears, hundreds of mourners bid a final farewell yesterday to retired federal Judge Samuel P. King at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
King was remembered as a keen legal mind whose far-reaching decisions on land reform, development, privacy and the environment continue to touch the way Hawaii residents live, and whose contributions to the landmark "Broken Trust" essay led to the reformation of the nation’s richest private trust. Speakers also celebrated King as a warm, down-to-earth friend, father and husband whose pearls of wisdom often came wrapped in sheaths of dry humor.
King died Dec. 7 as a result of head injuries sustained in a fall two days earlier.
University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth, co-author of "Broken Trust," said King exuded an aura of power and authority derived from his wisdom, integrity and wealth of experience.
"He was the most powerful man I ever met," Roth told the assembled audience. "Yet the legacy he leaves is not about power; it’s about character. Sam genuinely cared about people and he treated everyone with respect and aloha. He did not hesitate to stand up to injustice and he managed to stay humble throughout a lifetime of personal successes. And he did it all with humor and grace."
King was born in China, where his father, a Navy gunboat captain, was stationed.
He attended Punahou School and Yale University, and also served in the Navy. His father, Samuel W. King, served as a territorial delegate to Congress, territorial governor of Hawaii and a Bishop Estate trustee.
King was appointed a state circuit judge in 1962 by Gov. William Quinn. Eight years later, he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor against John A. Burns.
President Richard Nixon appointed King to the U.S. District Court in 1972.
In 1997, King co-authored "Broken Trust," a scathing indictment of the trustees of what was then the Bishop Estate, along with Roth, Gladys Brandt, Walter Heen and Monsignor Charles Kekumano. Roth said King’s participation was key in persuading the others to participate. The essay would serve as the impetus for dramatic changes within the multibillion-dollar charitable trust.
In describing the gentle way King was able to challenge and inspire others in the legal profession, Roth recalled meeting King for the first time when King appeared on his radio show to discuss the recently concluded O.J. Simpson trial. Roth said he asked King whether he believed Simpson was guilty for the murder of his wife.
King told Roth that the question was wrong. The right question, he said, was whether Simpson had been afforded a fair trial.
Roth hastened to add that King’s legal acumen was almost evenly matched with his famous wit. He recounted an incident in which a woman seeking a divorce appeared before King and began to recite a litany of justifications for her request. King finally interrupted the woman and said, "Ma’am, I can grant you only one divorce."
The Episcopal service started with a funeral ritual performed by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, of which King was a prominent member. Speakers included Roth, King’s son Samuel P. King Jr. and the Rev. Canon Franklin Chun. The musical group Puamana performed.
Samuel King Jr. said his father was as good a family man as he was a judge. Before the service, King recalled family outings to Kawela Bay on the North Shore and trips to the mainland.
"We had a great upbringing, great parents," he said. "He was always there for us and he was a great role model. Yes, he worked hard, but he was always there for us. Both of our parents were."
Among the hundreds who attended yesterday’s service were dozens of current and former lawmakers, judges and other community leaders, including Mayor Peter Carlisle, former Gov. Linda Lingle, outgoing state Attorney General Mark Bennett and retired Judge James Burns.
"He was a remarkable guy," Carlisle said. "He was always generous with his wisdom and his advice. He was just a great guy, period."