Myron Bennett "Pinky" Thompson (1924-2001)

A Life of Service

by Sam Low, January 1, 2002

Pinky at Keauhou Forest, Moku o Hawai'i, June 1999. Photo by Monte Costa

Myron B. "Pinky" Thompson provided visionary leadership as President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society for almost two decades before his passing in 2001 at 77 years of age. He was also a force for the betterment of Native Hawaiians and all of Hawai'i's people.

"What is constantly on my mind," Pinky told a reporter in 1984, "whether I'm on a plane headed for Washington D.C. or at a canoe practice is 'How can I do more to influence the process that will affect the future of our Hawaiian people?'"

Pinky was a social worker, a land use planner, state administrator under Governor Burns, a trustee of the Bishop Estate, president of the Polynesian Voyaging society, and one of the founders of Alu Like and Papa Ola Lokahi, among many other achievements. Throughout his career he was guided by the wisdom of his ancestors, finding in his Hawaiian heritage ancient values with modern day applications.

The importance of family was nurtured at an early age by Pinky's parents who took in 'at-risk foster children.' "I grew up living with kids who were less fortunate," Pinky explained, "and we became close. I felt their pain. I wanted to find a way to help and that began my process of entering into social work."

Pride of ancestry was the centerpiece of Pinky's strategy for the renewal of Hawaiian health and spirit. As State Administrator, he helped publish a textbook exploring Hawaiian culture and as Director of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust he helped create a book entitled "Nana I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source" to show how traditional cultural practices, such as ho'oponopono, are resilient ways of achieving health and pride today. As the Polynesian Voyaging Society's president, he guided Hokule'a's voyages throughout the vast Pacific to reunite an ancient ohana and ignite pride among Pacific peoples everywhere. "Hokule'a sails to remind all Hawaiians of their powerful heritage as a seafaring people," Pinky said. "The more we learn about our ancestors, the more we regain our pride as a strong people, the more we will be able to move forward with confidence and discipline."

All his life, Pinky followed the Hawaiian precept of 'Imi 'Ike. seeking knowledge. In 1963, for example, he worked with Bishop Museum's Dr. Alan Howard in a three-year study of a uniquely Hawaiian understanding of community. At KSBE he guided research to improve the condition of Native Hawaiians, and in 1981, he was chairman of the Native Hawaiian Education Commission which examined federal and state educational programs for Hawaiian youth and recommended improvements.

Caring for the environment, the spirit of malama, was another guiding value. As head of Hawai'i's Land Use Commission, Pinky wrote an article showing how the new law had roots in the ancient Hawaiian tradition of living in harmony with the 'aina. At KSBE, he developed programs for reforesting estate land, involving schoolchildren in the process. And in 1995, he envisioned the Voyaging Society's Malama Hawai'i program to increase environmental awareness.

To carry out his vision for a healthy and vigorous Hawai'i, Pinky created partnerships, a wide-ranging 'ohana of people and resources. In 1974 he joined with Hawai'i's congressional delegation to assure that Hawaiians were included in federal programs funded for Native Americans. "Pinky's testimony before congressional committees was moving in its sincerity and demanded federal action," remembers Senator Daniel K. Inouye. "He became the catalyst for many federal programs.

The delegation was pleased to follow his lead." As trustee, he wove together the resources of KSBE with those of state and federal government to reach Native Hawaiians with an array of nurturing programs. Pinky believed in Lokomaika'i, sharing. In 1974, when he became a KSBE Trustee, "?we looked around and saw that, although the Hawaiian children in Kamehameha were doing well, the vast majority of Native Hawaiian children were in public schools and they were not doing well," Pinky recalled. His careful study of Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will revealed that her intent was to benefit all the children of Hawaiian ancestry, including those in public schools, so he began extending the Estate's programs throughout the state.

Ten years later, KSBE had expanded from a single focus--serving about 2700 students in grades K-12 on its Kapalama campus, to an organization with three educational units, campus, extension and research, which offered more than 35 separate programs affecting more than 40,000 individuals annually. It was a promising beginning that continued to unfold under his guidance.

Pinky's vision for a healthy Hawaiian people was holistic, encompassing a concept of education and caring that began at birth. His training in early childhood development convinced him that the first three years of a child's life were critical to a deep sense of self worth. To foster that, Pinky helped create KSBE's numerous center-based pre-schools, and was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for parent-infant education and traveling preschools throughout the state.

Pinky took risks. constantly seeking new ways to help Hawaiians. One example was KEEP, the Kamehameha Schools Early Education Project. "The program is based," Pinky explained, "on the concept that children of Native Hawaiian ancestry often learn better from each other than from adults." KEEP classrooms were flexible and interactive, designed with multiple stations where students learned by actively participating with each other and their teachers.

Although Pinky was especially concerned for the welfare of Native Hawaiians, his aloha for all people transcended divisiveness. Voyaging aboard Hokule'a is one example of his belief in human unity. "Our canoes have been envisioned, maintained, and sailed by all of Hawai'i's people," he often said, "regardless of race or religion. We must remember that we are all one people."

Pinky's vision of Olakino Maika'i, living a healthy life, united mind, body and spirit. One transcendent moment in his life occurred just before he jumped off for the Normandy invasion when a Catholic chaplain helped him rediscover his ancestral spirituality. "He asked us to call the supreme powers of our families and our personal beliefs to join us that night," Pinky recalled. "From that moment on I found comfort in my Akua and my 'Aumakua as well as in God."

To improve the mental and physical health of Hawaiians, Pinky helped found Papa Ola Lokahi in 1988. Continuing and refining his concept of partnerships, POL became an umbrella organization to unite care-giving institutions throughout Hawaii. Not surprisingly, one goal was to preserve traditional healing practices. Pinky expressed his abiding belief in a "helping hand," not a "hand out," in the organization's mission statement: " assist Hawaiian natives who are committed to achieving their potential in caring for themselves, their families and communities."

As president of PVS, Pinky's vision united past, present and future by reaffirming that traditional Polynesian values applied universally across time and space. "Before our ancestors set out to find a new island," he explained, "they had to have a vision of that island over the horizon. They made a plan for achieving that vision. They prepared themselves physically and mentally and were willing to experiment, to try new things. They took risks. And on the voyage they bound each other with aloha so they could together overcome the risks and achieve their vision. You find these same values throughout the world, seeking, planning, experimenting, taking risks and the importance caring for each other."

"The same principles that we used in the past," he often said, "are the ones that we use today and that we will use into the future. No matter what culture we are, or what race, these are values that work for us all."

Community leader Myron 'Pinky' Thompson” by Mike Gordon of the Honolulu Advertiser (Dec. 27, 2001).

Ex-trustee ‘Pinky’ Thompson” by Treena Shapiro and Pat Omandam of the Honolulu Star Bulletin (Dec. 26, 2001).

Services for Pinky were held Thursday, Jan. 3, 2002, at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Memorial Chapel on the Kapalama Campus of The Kamehameha Schools. His ashes were scattered on Saturday, Jan. 5, in Maunalua Bay.