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Former state senator remembered fondly by ex-governors

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    Duke Kawasaki.

Duke Takeshi Kawasaki, described by political leaders as a man of integrity who served 20 years as a state senator, died at a nursing home on Oahu on Aug. 28. He was 94.

Former Govs. Ben Cayetano and John Waihee said Kawasaki was a man of high character.

“He was a straightforward guy,” Waihee said. “We could use more of him in the Legislature.”

Kawasaki, born in Honolulu, served in the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, made up primarily of Japanese-Americans during World War II, building military defense projects on Oahu, including a Flying Fortress airfield in Kahuku and a million-gallon water tank in Wahiawa.

Kawasaki, a graduate of McKinley High School, attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and was a bandleader of Duke Kawa’s Band in Honolulu, said his daughter, Jean Okimoto.

“He also worked as a stevedore,” she said.

Okimoto said her father was the oldest of four children, and that after his mother died in childbirth, the responsibility fell more upon him to watch over the others.

Kawasaki was raised in McCully and eventually settled with his family in Kalihi Valley, which he represented in the Legislature.

He served in the state Senate from 1967 to 1986 in various leadership positions, including assistant majority floor leader and vice president.

He also served as deputy managing director under Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi.

In his book “Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor,” Cayetano described how Kawasaki abided by certain principles, even if it meant losing his position as vice president of the Senate.

“They don’t make them like Duke anymore,” Cayetano said.

In addition to his daughter, Kawasaki is survived by a son, Guy; brother Harold; four grandchildren; and nieces, nephews and extended family.

Visitation begins at 9:30 a.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu in Kaneohe.

Services start at 10:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family suggests donations to an organization of the contributor’s choice. Aloha attire.

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