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U.S. Rep. Mark Takai dies after battle with pancreatic cancer

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / NOV. 2014

    U.S. Rep. K. Mark Takai died this morning in Honolulu, nine months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Rep. Mark Takai, D- Hawaii, presents President Barack Obama with a commemorative bowl at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md., on Jan. 28.

  • BRUCE ASATO / FEB. 2012

    Then-state Rep. Mark Takai charges his electric car using a Volta Industries charging station built in Pearlridge Center’s Uptown parking lot. Scott Mercer and Chris Ching, co-founders of Volta Industries, which built an electric vehicle charging station, and state Rep. Aaron Johanson, stand in back.

  • BRUCE ASATO / FEB. 2015

    Outgoing State Adjutant General, Major General Darryll D.M. Wong, is congratulated by U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard, following a transfer of authority ceremony at the 29th Brigade Combat Team Readiness Center in Kapolei. B

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / JAN. 2015

    Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway administered the Oath of Office to U.S. Rep. Mark Takai at the U.S. Federal Courthouse.

U.S. Rep. K. Mark Takai died this morning in Honolulu, nine months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A statement from his office said Takai passed away at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 49.

“The Takai family thanks the people of Hawaii for their support during this difficult time,” the statement said. “The Takai family politely asks for the continued respect of their family’s privacy.”

In a statement from the White House, President Barack Obama said, “Mark was always a fighter. It’s the spirit he brought to more than two decades of public service on behalf of the people of Hawaii. He stood up for America’s most vulnerable. He championed our troops and veterans, and proudly wore our nation’s uniform. And his relentless push for cancer research inspired countless Americans fighting the same battle as him. Simply put, our country is better off because of Mark’s contributions.”

Gov. David Ige issued a statement lauding Takai’s public service and expressing condolences. “Today, the people of Hawaii mourn the passing of U.S. Rep. Mark Takai,” he said. “He proudly served his country in uniform, including 17 years with the Hawaii Army National Guard. Mark humbly and effectively served the people of his state House and Congressional districts. In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant.

“While we will deeply feel the loss of Mark Takai in the public arena, we cannot forget that he was a family man first. His wife, children and extended family will miss him every moment from this day on. Dawn and I extend our deepest sympathies to Sami, Matthew and Kaila. Your husband and father was a man of principle and goodwill. Thank you for sharing him with the citizens of Hawaii.”

Born on Oahu on July 1, 1967, Takai was an Iraq War veteran who deployed in 2009, and was a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard. He worked for the Guard as a preventive medical officer.

The Democrat served in the state Legislature for 20 years before winning election in 2014 to the U.S. House seat that was vacated by former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate.

Takai publicly confirmed last November he had been diagnosed with cancer, and he underwent surgery at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., to remove a small tumor in his pancreas.

Takai said doctors found the tumor in late October while testing him to determine why he had been experiencing some stomach pain. Takai said the cancer was caught early, and tests showed that the tumor was “isolated.”

“I am in good spirits and thankful that my prognosis remains good thanks to the early detection,” he said at the time. “My family and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support and prayers. We ask for your continued prayers, support and respect for our privacy during this challenging time.”

Takai returned to Congress on a limited work schedule in early December after undergoing surgery, and began chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“The diagnosis really brings things quickly into focus,” Takai said in a statement after his surgery. “It reminds me of what’s important, and for me that’s faith, family and fighting for Hawaii.”

He announced on Feb. 17 that he would seek re-election to a second term in Congress, saying he hoped to campaign and “aggressively fight this cancer” at the same time.

He announced he had changed those plans and would not run for re-election in an announcement on May 19 after he learned the cancer had spread.

“In life, we often make plans for ourselves,” Takai said in his statement at the time. “I had envisioned a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, building up the seniority and influence that were key to Sen. (Daniel) Inouye’s ability to deliver for Hawaii. But as often happens, we find ourselves on a different journey than what we had planned.”

Takai said that “putting Hawaii and its people first means that I must regretfully withdraw from my 2016 re-election race for Congress and suspend my campaign. Right now, for the sake of my family, I need to focus on getting better rather than getting re-elected.”

As word of his death today spread, condolences from colleagues came from around the island and the nation.

U.S House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am saddened by the passing of our colleague, Mark Takai. He was an exemplary soldier, public servant and beloved member of the House of Representatives. His love for Hawaii and the people he represented was evident every day.”

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi spoke of Takai’s fight against cancer, saying, “All of us were moved when he announced his cancer to Vice President (Joe) Biden and the Members at the House Democrats’ Issues Conference earlier this year. Mark confronted his diagnosis with the spirit we all hope we would share when facing such an awful disease. As we mourn the loss of our friend, we draw fresh resolve to find cures.”

Fellow Hawaii Democrat U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, said she “affectionately called Mark my younger brother. We shared so many of the same values and supported each other during challenging times. Mark’s passing is a tremendous loss for all of us who loved him, and for the state of Hawaii. But he said it best: ‘As often happens, we find ourselves on a different journey than we had planned.’ While we find that our journey is not as bright without Mark, we will continue his work to make Hawaii a better place.”

“This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “Throughout his life, he was all about serving the people of Hawaii. He gave so much, and had so much more yet to give.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served with Takai in the House, said, “I’m grateful to have known and worked with Mark for over a decade. … Mark’s smiling face and ready laugh will truly be missed, but the impact that he made through his life of service to the people of Hawaii will always be remembered.”

Ige’s office was researching next steps to determine how a replacement would be named, spokeswoman Jodi Leong said. The Hawaii Office of Elections will likely hold an election in November for a replacement to serve the remainder of Takai’s term, which would have ended in January, said spokeswoman Nedielyn Bueno.

The City Council’s Budget Committee was in session at Honolulu Hale at about 9:15 a.m. when word broke of Takai’s passing.

The usually stoic Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi stopped her meeting, and through tears, asked for a moment of silence. “I know our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” she said, her voice shaking.

Attempting to proceed with her committee agenda with an item involving a sale of wastewater system revenue bonds, Kobayashi said “OK, we have to go on with business.” But she had to pause to compose herself before continuing.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement, “I was lucky to have worked with Mark in the State House and the commitment and dedication he had for his country, his state and Hawaii’s many diverse communities was obvious to all. Whether on deployment with the Hawaii Army National Guard, debating national security issues in Congress, or simply providing a helping hand for various community projects, Mark served with vigor and energy, and his presence and sound reasoning will be sorely missed.”

Hanabusa, who is running to replace Takai and return to her former seat in Congress, said today, “We have lost a great public servant who dedicated his life to making Hawaii and our nation a better place. We will miss him dearly.”

Takai was a graduate of Pearl City High School and the University of Hawaii, where he was a champion swimmer, editor of Ka Leo, the campus newspaper, and president of the Associated Students of the UH.

He is survived by his wife Sami Takai, their children Matthew, 14, and Kaila, 13, and parents Erik and Naomi. Services are pending.

———

Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Pang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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  • Sad when a good man departs at such a young age. The campaign posters still up around town stand as memorials of the family man that he was.

  • Wow. Gobsmacked!

    Rest in Peace, and thank you for your compassion and service to your community and to all people of Hawaii.

    You were actually one of the few politicians here that was respectable. Hardly any left now.

    Wish all the best to your family.

  • i remember him as the ASUH president, on the UH swim team, hanging out with his teammates at the UH dorms, as a very happy and positive person. what a great and sad loss.

  • So saddened by this news. This young man has accomplished so much in so short of a time. Condolences to his family. The foot prints he’s left on Hawaii’s shores will be remembered.
    Aloha Mark..ahui ho

  • I’m usually very cynical about politicians, but this man served our state and country well. He did the right thing by withdrawing from the re-election race to focus on his recovery so that a representative would be in place who hopefully will be fully focused on the hard work that needs to be done. It’s so sad that it turned out to be fatal instead. May he rest in peace, and his family find comfort in their time of grieving.

    • agree. Crushing blow for all of us who so wanted a fresh, idealistic face in Congress. Mark was a bi-partisan figure. All of us at the UH pray for his family.

  • Sincere and heartfelt condolences to his wife , children and family members. Never so few had done so well as Mark Takai. May your journey beyond the stars, align with angels singing praises of your goodness and of your love for the people of Hawaii! Aloha Oe!

  • Im sad by this news, I always thought Takai was a good guy…and in fact a good politician. I will pray for the progress of his soul and that his family heals from their loss. I lost my 22 yr old daughter to cancer 3 months ago…I hope we find the key to that disease soon, its taking a far too great a toll on us as a people. Go with God Mark.

    • My condolences to you and your family. Losing a child is heartbreaking and three months ago is like yesterday to parents. Will keep you and your family in our prayers . God bless!

  • Exceptional man, exceptional Congressman and officer, who met his fate with uncommon dignity. I truly enjoyed speaking with him – One of the few politicians whom I have both trusted intuitively, and over time proven correct in having trusted. I imagine his family to be terribly lonely today, and I am saddest for them.

  • A gentlemen and genuine good person. He was, by far, most favorite congressional representative. Always meet you with a smile, and was without hubris and agenda–a rarity in this manufactured political world. Thoughts and prayers to your family Mark–Holumua to the other side, dear friend.

  • Auwe! Heartbroken to lose such a fine politician, veteran, and all-around great guy, especially so young. The whole state has suffered a loss. Condolences to his loving family.

  • Such sad news! I’ll never understand why such good people are taken from us before their time. Deepest sympathies and aloha to his family and friends.

    • You’re crying because of your compassionate and caring nature! Your tears, at this moment in time, is a testimony of the love we all share for Mark and his family! God bless !

  • Was fortunate enough to work with Mark Takai during my active duty military days when he did so much to support efforts to improve local schools and help military kids transition into our local public school system. A sincere and humble public servant.
    He will be long missed in the Nei. RIP Mark and condolences to your family.

  • RIP Mark. Hawaii has lost a great & decent gentleman. Hawaiian Swimming has lost a great supporter. As a referee, I ALWAYS appreciated your help timing at the meets, while other parents sat in the stands doing nothing. If all politicians were as true to their values as you , this state & country would be a MUCH better place to live. Your parents & Coach Suenaga gave you an awesome sense of service to your community and I will sorely miss your smiling face on deck. Aloha my otomodachi

  • Mark’s energy and vision will be sorely missed. Tragically this generation has lost such strong role model for effective leadership and public service. Deepest heartfelt condolences to his family.

  • Sad day for all of us. He was a champion athlete, Student Body President at U of Hawai, war veteran, able Politian, and Congressman. We lost one of Hawaii’s finest and brightest young Statesman. Best wishes prayers to his family.

  • My deepest condolences to his family. He will be missed and is a reminder to us all to express love to our friends, family and everyone while we are still with them.

  • Sincerest condolences to the entire Takai Ohana. Mark a remarkable family man and community leader will be missed by all. I remember, like it was yesterday, we would link up at Zippys vineyard for breakfast, when he was in the state legislature. His faith and belief in God will help to sustain his family..

  • What a great loss that Hawaii has suffered. Just a few months ago I went to a college planning workshop that Mark Takai had sponsored at Mililani High School. He seemed quite fine back then so I was shocked to hear of his passing. There are not many politicians that I trust and support but I remember walking away from Mark’s presentation and being impressed by his public service and his desire and willingness to help the common people of Hawaii. In this particular case, he was trying to help us via a free workshop to find ways to fund our children’s college education and prepare them both scholastically and financially. I was impressed because he didn’t have any hidden agendas other than helping families obtain higher educations for their children. He will truly be missed; my sincere condolences to the Takai Family.

  • Mark Takai was a truly GOOD person whose main goal was to do right by the Hawaii people. My heart goes out to his young family. We will miss you so much, Mark.

  • Deepest condolences to the Family of Mark Takai. He was destined to be one of the great Congressman given his track record in the State Legislature and his vision for a greater Hawaii. We will all miss his integrity and thoughtfulness. Rest in Peace Mark!!

  • OH SHOOT!
    My sincerest condolences to the Takai ohana for their loss.
    I believe I first met Mark Takai way back in ’94. He was a caring yet hard charging individual even way back then. You could see even then he had dreams for bigger things.

  • My condolences to the Takai Ohana.
    Representative Takai was an honest , dynamic, and
    A true representative of the people.
    His passing is a great loss for Hawaii
    Very sad.

  • Mark, you’re a testament to the truth that goodness doesn’t go unnoticed. As I read through the replies to this article, I realized that all of us sensed your selflessness, your devotion to duty and country, to family and community, to the big and the small. Many have noted that you came across as genuine, as someone who had no hidden agenda. I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. Sincerity. What you see is what you get. Just as prominent were the comments about your sense of humor, your joie de vivre, your aloha. In your life, you went for the gold in all that you pursued, and you won every time, proving time and again that good guys can win. Aloha ‘oe, Mark, and deepest condolences to your family and friends. Your example will leave a lasting impression on all of us.

  • I knew Mark well. He was a truly wonderful father and person. If only all politicians had Mark’ s character especially now. I really feel this loss.

  • “In life, we often make plans for ourselves,” Takai said in his statement at the time. “I had envisioned a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, building up the seniority and influence that were key to Sen. (Daniel) Inouye’s ability to deliver for Hawaii. But as often happens, we find ourselves on a different journey than what we had planned.”

    Godspeed, Mark Takai. May the Lord’s blessings be with you and your ohana. Your words ring true for all of us.

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