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Jogger killed in Kailua was accomplished public servant

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich

Enchanted Lake resident Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich must have logged 27,000 miles since he started jogging back in 1975, his family estimates.

At the age of 80, the retired college professor, special assistant to two U.S. senators from Hawaii and a Clinton appointee in Washington D.C., was still running 10 miles a week to keep fit.

But his life came to an abrupt and tragic end when he was struck and killed Sept. 3 by a pickup truck driven by a suspected intoxicated driver on Keolu Drive.

Police said Comcowich was walking not far from his home at 6:32 a.m. in a bike lane when a white 2015 Toyota Tacoma operated by a 57-year-old man and traveling in the same direction veered right and hit him, along with two parked vehicles.

He was taken in critical condition to a hospital, where he later died.

Police arrested the driver, president of a Kailua construction company, on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant and first- degree negligent homicide. He was later released pending investigation.

Greg Comcowich said his father jogged to stay healthy, since his own father had died of a heart attack at a young age.

In November, Jerry Comcowich ran a 2-mile race in Massachusetts and won in his age group.

His daughter, Malia Comcowich, said her father was “beyond healthy. He was just amazing.”

“When I looked yesterday for paperwork related to my father’s death, I saw a receipt for a recent donation he made to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving),” she said. “This irony speaks for itself.”

Born Aug. 25, 1940 in Peekskill, N.Y., Jerry Comcowich met and married Marianne DiMarco in 1966.

“He went out of his way to help people — family, students, friends and anyone in need. They could always count on him,” said his wife of 54 years.

They came to Hawaii in 1969 shortly after he obtained his doctorate degree from the University of Denver. Comcowich took a position as an assistant professor of education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, serving as academic adviser and developmental counselor.

He became the first executive director in 1973 of the UH Professional Assembly, the collective bargaining unit for UH faculty.

In 1977, Comcowich was offered the position of special assistant to U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga and took a leave of absence from the university to serve in Washington, D.C. His primary areas of focus were higher education, transportation and labor.

Comcowich also served U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka as special assistant beginning in 1990, working on labor, education and foreign affairs legislation.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him to a post in the U.S. Department of Education, serving as special assistant to Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education David Longanecker. While serving in the position, he advocated for student financial aid because he recognized the burden of student loans on young graduates when his own children were in college, Malia Comcowich said.

“He presented a public policy change to make student loan repayment based on one’s income so new graduates would no longer face a heavy debt burden right out of college. He brought this proposal to Sen. Akaka, which was later passed with President Clinton’s backing,” she said. “He was very proud to help future generations with this law.”

He also played a key role in planning for UH Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology building, said friend Doug Carlson, who added that Comcowich rarely sought public recognition for his accomplishments over years of public service.

Comcowich retired in 2009 as a tenured faculty member at SOEST.

His longtime friends say he was generous, honest, funny and full of insight in matters of importance.

He is also survived by son Kevin; daughter Maile McLaughlin; and seven grandchildren.

The family held a private service, and a public memorial service will be conducted after the COVID-19 emergency has passed. Memorial gifts may be directed to the Hawaii Food Bank.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong year Comcowich was appointed by Clinton to a post.

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