Friends and former colleagues remembered veteran Hawaii politician Ron Menor on Wednesday as a dedicated and passionate lawmaker who was driven to serve the people of Hawaii.
“Public service was his life,” said former state Senate colleague Will Espero. “He was committed to making Hawaii a better place for everybody. This is a big loss for Hawaii.”
Menor, 67, died Monday from an unexpected medical emergency, according to his family.
Menor, an attorney by trade, served in the Honolulu City Council and the state Senate and House of Representatives for the better part of four decades. He served in the state Legislature from 1982 to 2008, and was a City Council member from 2013 to 2021.
“I was totally stunned last night,” said former state Senate President Robert Bunda, recalling the moment he heard about his friend’s death.
Bunda said Menor was a humble person who was very reliable and excellent at his job in the Legislature.
“He knew how to be a good servant to the public,” he said. “He was a natural.”
Bunda and Menor started in the Legislature in the same class in 1982, and their paths were similar in that they both graduated to the upper house.
As a friend, he said, Menor was hard to beat.
“He was just a really nice person,” Bunda said. “He showed kindness, but his kindness was an awesome kind of kindness.”
Espero said Menor was simply driven to serve the people.
“As an attorney, he probably could have made a ton of money, but he chose public service,” Espero said.
Former colleague Nestor Garcia wore different hats while working with Menor over the years, but he was always impressed by the man.
“Ron was someone who I dealt with as a TV news reporter when state Senator Menor first ran for Congress in 1990. He was a colleague with whom I served with in the state House. I was his constituent when he won election to the City Council seat I vacated when I was term-limited. But most of all, he was a dear friend who I regarded as a brother who served with distinction and will be sorely missed,” Garcia said in a text.
Menor, a graduate of Iolani School, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and his law degree from Georgetown University Law School. He would go on to open his own law practice and was a deputy state attorney general.
He was also a member of the Mililani Lions Club, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations and the West Oahu YMCA board of directors, among others.
Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, worked as a legislative aide for her cousin while he was in the Senate.
She said she received scores of phone calls and texts Wednesday from people who told her about his impact on their lives.
“He always made his decisions from his heart and with a collaborative approach that made things work,” Menor-McNamara said.
Menor-McNamara said serving the public was a family tradition for Menor, a lifelong Democrat. “It was in his DNA.”
His father, Benjamin Menor, an immigrant from the Philippines, served in the state Senate from 1962 to 1966 and then was appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court by Gov. John Burns. He served on the high court from 1974 to 1981 as the state’s first Filipino justice.
While the younger Menor was reelected many times, he was not always victorious. His reelection loss in the Senate to political newcomer Michelle Kidani in 2008 was preceded by a drunken driving conviction.
Menor spent 48 hours in jail and was fined $800 after pleading no contest to the DUI following a traffic stop April 27. Two sons, ages 11 and 17 at the time, were in the vehicle with him.
Menor apologized to his family, colleagues and constituents for his actions, and he would go on to become a volunteer counsel for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Five years after his conviction, Menor ran for public office again. This time for City Council, winning in a district that included his Mililani home plus Waikele, Waipahu, Village Park, Royal Kunia and Ewa Beach.
In his most recent election, Menor ran in the 2022 election for the City Council’s District 8 seat. He and eventual winner Council member Val Okimoto advanced to the general election, where he lost.
Even after he lost, Menor did not lose his drive to serve the people. At the time of his death, he successfully lobbied to be on a short list of people to succeed Mililani state Rep. Ryan Yamane, who was recently appointed by Gov. Josh Green as deputy director of the state Department of Human Resources Development.
Menor is survived by his wife, Pat, and three sons. Services have not been announced.