A leading advocate for Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources, Laura Kalaukapu Low Lucas Thompson died peacefully, surrounded by family, Aug. 9 at her home in Niu Valley, where she was born and raised, her son Nainoa Thompson said.
Born May 7, 1925, Thompson was 95 years old.
“She was really from the old Hawaii,” said her son, a master navigator and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, on whose board his mother and father, the late Myron B. “Pinky” Thompson, long served.
“’Kalaukapu,’ to hold the leaf sacred, captured the essence of who she was,” Thompson said of his mother’s Hawaiian name, bestowed by her grandmother. “She respected and took responsibility to protect all living things.”
In his mother’s house, if a centipede ran across the floor, you didn’t kill it, Thompson said, adding the doors were never locked, but left open to all.
“Mom and Daddy took in every kid, everybody who needed food, shelter or a listening ear,” said her daughter, Lita Thompson Blankenfeld, “but she had to do it all, make a huge pot of stew or a hamburger whatever every weekend and feeding whoever showed up.”
Her mother also looked after the family’s horses, cows, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, white mice and birds, said Blankenfeld, a dispatcher for Hawaiian Airlines.
“When I think of my mom, the first word that comes to me is kindness,” said her son Myron K. Thompson, owner of a solar energy company. “People always knew they would be welcomed when they saw Laura Thompson, and that’s exactly what’s coming back to us now, all these people telling us stories about how Mom had helped them.”
Guests to the Thompson home over the years included community members and leaders from around the Pacific, who met on the capacious deck, built around a tree, to plan environmental and social initiatives, said Pauline Sato, executive director of Malama Learning Center on Oahu’s west side.
“We had many meetings at their family compound, which is like country at the end of the road up the valley, a setting you felt was full of mana,” Sato, said.
“Laura was always supportive for anything to do with taking care of Hawaii,” Sato added. “She was so generous with her time, with her funds.”
Thompson also served as president and chairwoman of the Hawaiian Humane Society, conservation chairwoman for the Papahanau- mokuakea Reserve Advisory Committee, and on many boards of directors, including those of The Nature Conservancy Hawaii, Planned Parenthood of Hawai‘i, the YWCA, Palama Settlement, Hawai‘i Nature Center, and Alu Like and Papa Ola Lokahi, both co-founded by her husband, a social worker who helped create the Native Hawaiian health care system and advanced early childhood education during his 20 years as a Bishop Estate trustee.
A co-founder of Malama Maunalua Bay and Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center, Laura Thompson, whose ancestor Alexander Adams received 2,000 acres of Niu Valley as a gift from King Kamehameha I, spent her childhood in a house on the beach near the ancient Kalahaehae tidal fishpond, which she later helped restore after it was cut off from the springs that fed it during the widening of Kalanianaole Highway in the 1990s.
“I remember how cold the water was, how clouds of opae would cluster near the rocks and how the pungent strings of limu eleele could be rolled into a ball,” Thompson wrote in 2012.
“She was a powerful driving force to get the city and state to put back the fresh water, 1 million gallons of which were being diverted to a sewer plant in Kalama Valley,” Nainoa Thompson said. “She fought for I don’t know how many years and she won, they gave it back.”
THE DAUGHTER of Clorinda Low Lucas, a pioneering social worker, and Charles Lucas, who ran a dairy in Niu Valley, Laura Thompson was a graduate of Punahou School, where she met her future husband in ninth grade.
After graduating from Lake Erie College, Ohio, in 1948, she married Myron B. Thompson on Feb. 21, 1949, in Maine, where he was attending Colby College after serving in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II.
She was raised as an only child, and her best friends were her horse, Huapala, and dairyman Yoshi Kawano and his wife, Myoko Kawano, who looked after her when her parents were out, her children said.
“The horse was her best friend because it would never abandon her,” Nainoa Thompson said.
“Aunty Laura told me she used to ride alone from Niu Valley past Kalama Valley along the Kaiwi shoreline,” said Aulani Wilhelm, senior vice president of the Conservation International Center for Oceans, who worked with Thompson on the designation of a part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument and a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.
“She would know it was time to turn around and go home for dinner because every day around 4 p.m., a certain light rain would come across that is no longer there, she said, because everything’s changed about the valley,” Wilhelm said.
Even as recently as the 1950s, “Niu Valley was really rural,” Myron Thompson said. “There were only three houses in the valley and one dirt road.”
Growing up high in the back of the valley, “I remember us being terrified as little kids, not too sure of other human beings, and the only one we could grab hold of was my mom,” he said. “She was like our rock, our stability, always there for us.”
But the children, who all paddled for Hui Nalu Canoe Club, as did their father, knew their mother was terrified of the ocean, where she refused to swim.
Nevertheless, when she was in her late 50s, “we got my mom into the canoe,” Nainoa Thompson said. “There was no category old enough for her, so she raced with the younger girls, who all loved her, and she became No. 1 (the stroker in the prow).”
Thompson was an inspiration, said waterman Sam Low, her cousin and the author of “Hawaiki Rising,” a book about Hokule‘a and the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s.
“Laura was a constant guiding star for me,” Low said, recounting how Thompson read drafts of the book as he wrote it over 10 years. “Her gentle and constant encouragement was a strong wind in my sails.”
Blankenfeld said her mother paid attention to people: “She never lectured, she just trusted that you’d do what you needed to do. And she was, like, the best listener ever.”
As a child at bedtime, Blankenfeld remembered, she would tell her mother everything that had happened that day, minute by minute, “and she would listen to everything I said. My whole life, I felt like I could tell her everything; she wouldn’t criticize, wouldn’t judge.”
Quiet, patient and an attentive listener, skilled at bringing people with disparate points of view to the table, Thompson could also be decisive, friends said.
“When she was a founding member of our coral reef reserve advisory council, we held a five-year community and public process to develop a proposal for what has now become Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument,” Wilhelm said. “There were some very tense moments, asking people representing government, fishermen, educators, environmentalists and Native Hawaiian practitioners for input on how to develop a management plan.”
After listening to some heated exchanges, “Laura said we were asking the wrong question,” Wilhelm said. “She said we should be asking what do we need to do that’s worthy of this place, and in that moment she changed our entire public process, breaking it down to what is our kuleana and how do we come together around worthiness.”
From board meetings to family breakfast discussions, “she encouraged everyone to contribute and often was the one to summarize the best ideas and draw the group together to form a plan of action,” Low said.
“Laura, like her mother, Clorinda Lucas, seemed to me the incarnation of an alii of old times — a wise and caring person who seemed to know when a caress or honest, albeit sometimes difficult, feedback would be most helpful,” he added.
Thompson preferred to stay behind the scenes while her husband, children and colleagues received recognition for their work, but she couldn’t avoid being publicly honored after the conclusion of the Hokulea‘s 2014-18 Malama Honua “Care for the Earth” Worldwide Voyage, Sato said.
“There was a big dinner at the convention center to thank the donors, and she had to go up and sit on the stage where they performed a hula and song written for her, and Nainoa gave a very moving talk,” Sato said. “She was smiling.”
“When you add it all up, looking back, I’m most impressed by what a powerful teacher she was to her children,” Nainoa Thompson said.
“Her final teachings were making sure the things that mattered were ingrained in her children, that we would be loving and caring to each other and this family would stay together.”
After his mother died, he said, he realized he could find her in spirit in the upper reaches of the valley, where “she was always in the wild, in nature.”
Thompson recalled a story told by her old friend, dairyman Yoshi Kawano, of coming upon Laura Thompson as a child, “riding way up in the back of the valley, in the watershed, without a saddle, standing up on Huapala.”
In addition to her children, Thompson is survived by seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and grandnieces and nephews.
A celebration of her life will be scheduled after the pandemic ends, her family said.