- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii state Sen. Gilbert Kahele, recalled as a big-hearted gentleman who cared deeply for his district, has died.

The Democrat, 73, died Tuesday morning surrounded by family at Queens Medical Center on Oahu, according to Jill Kuramoto, spokeswoman for the Senate majority.

Kahele, who represented South Hilo on the Big Island, was appointed to the state Senate in 2011 by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie and then elected in 2012.

“The Hilo community and the state of Hawaii today has lost a great Senator, a gentleman, and passionate advocate who cared deeply about public service and the people he represented,” said Senate President Ronald Kouchi. “I am honored to have served with him and I know his fellow colleagues in the Senate feel the same.”

Sentiments from fellow lawmakers and politicians poured in about Kahele’s character, showing the impact he made during his years of service.

“He was really very much like Mr. Aloha,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker. “He was honest. He was trustworthy. He was a good friend.”

Kahele grew up in the fishing village of Milolii on Hawaii’s Big Island and graduated from Hilo High School in 1960. He served in the U.S. Marines until 1964 and then worked for the Hawaii Department of Defense for more than three decades.

“As a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Milolii, Gil was truly a keiki o ka aina,” said a group of Big Island lawmakers in a joint statement, using a Hawaiian phrase that means “child of the land.”

Kahele worked to strengthen Hilo’s economy, and was instrumental in obtaining funding to build the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Kuramoto said. He also was a staunch supporter of the School of Aviation at Hilo International Airport, she said.

Kahele served as chairman of the Hawaii County Police Commission from 1988 to 1992, and also served as vice chairman of the Hawaii County Democratic Party for East Hawaii.

In the state Senate, Kahele served as chairman of the Tourism and International Affairs Committee. Sen. J. Kalani English, who had been vice chairman, will now handle that committee, Kouchi said.

Constituents and fellow lawmakers took to Facebook to post tributes to Kahele.

“As a former Marine, he always asked about my son Sean, who is also a Marine,” Sen. Will Espero said in a Facebook post. “Senator Kahele was a kind, soft spoken man who will be missed.”

Services for Kahele are pending, Kuramoto said.

“He was always thinking about other people, not himself,” Baker said. “We lost a good man.”

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