Hawaii 24/7 Staff
Helene Hale, who was the state’s first woman mayor, died of natural causes Friday, Feb. 1 at her Hilo home. She was 94.
Born the oldest of three siblings on March 23, 1918 in Minneapolis, Helene Eleanor Hilyer graduated from the University of Minnesota, where her grandfather had been the first African-American to graduate. Her uncle Ralph Bunche was the first person of color awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 and also was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Along with husband William Hale, she moved in 1947 to the Big Island and taught at Konawaena Intermediate School. In 1954, Hale was elected to the county Board of Supervisors, and was elected chairman and chief executive officer, the equivalent of mayor in 1962.
She lost that seat to Shunichi Kimura in 1964, but did serve two stints on the County Council — 1980-84 and 1988-94.
Beginning at age 82 in 2000, Hale began a three-term run in the state Legislature, retiring again following a minor stroke that affected her speech.
Hale also was instrumental in developing astronomy atop Mauna Kea, the Merrie Monarch Festival, Hilo’s first sewage treatment plant, and Pahoa High and Intermediate School gymnasium that now bears her name.
Hale also served terms as president of Hilo Business and Professional Women’s Club; Big Island Local Development Corporation; Mauna Kea Foundation; Hawaii Island Board of Realtors;Hawaii Island YWCA Board of Directors.
She served on the boards of the YWCA Advisory Committee; Hawaii County League of Women Voters; Family Community Leadership Advisory Committee; Mainstreet Pahoa Association; Hawaii Island chapter of the United Nations Association.
Additionally, Hale was a member of the Hawaii Conservation Council, Big Island Press Club, Big Island Alliance for Mentally Ill, Anela Street Kumiai, Chinese-American Friendship Association, Hilo Medical Center Association, and the Democratic Party.
Hale was preceded in death by her parents, siblings, husband, and her two children, Indira Karma Hale and William Jasper Kona Hale. She is survived by granddaughter, Angelique Kaiulani Tucker Stephens, of Hollywood, Calif.; son-in-law Judge Marcus Tucker, of Long Beach, Calif.; niece Barbara Hilyer and her husband John Daggett, of Portland; nephew ret. Judge Bruce Hilyer, of Seattle, Wash.; grand nieces and a grand nephew.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the University of Hawaii Foundation for either the Helene Hale Scholarship Fund, the UH-Hilo Public History Enrichment Fund — which will be archiving her public papers — or the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Donations may be mailed to the UH-Hilo Office of Development at 200 West Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720.
A memorial service is planned at a later date.