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Former Hawaii state Rep. Mele Carroll died early Wednesday after battling cancer. She was 50 years old.
Fighting back tears, House lawmakers took a moment of silence to acknowledge their colleague’s untimely death during their floor session in the afternoon. A black ribbon marked her empty seat.
“It is a very sad day for the House,” Speaker Joseph Souki said in a statement. “Mele brought to the Legislature a vigorous desire to serve and deep love for Maui, Molokai and Lanai and Hawaii in general. She will be greatly missed by everyone here at the Capitol. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”
Carroll, a Democrat who represented Lanai, Molokai and parts of Maui, had resigned Feb. 1 for health reasons. The House said at the time that complications from her previous cancer treatments had arisen in recent months and she needed to spend time with family and friends.
She died at 3:50 a.m. Wednesday with her family at her side, House officials said. Funeral services are pending.
“Mele was an outstanding representative of her district, and we will remember the results she achieved and the Aloha spirit with which she conducted her work,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement.
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui extended his condolences as well.
“As chair of the Human Services committee, she was a staunch advocate for people in need and loved representing the area she served,” Tsutsui said. “I will miss working with her on issues relating to our home, Maui County.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a former colleague of Carroll’s, said Hawaii has lost a “passionate public servant,” making this an “extremely sad day.”
“For decades, Mele served the community at all levels, and with so much heart,” Takai said in a statement. “From her work in the Hawaii State Legislature, to her service on numerous nonprofit boards, to coaching high school girls in basketball, Mele took seriously her calling to help the people of Hawaii, and did it with tremendous commitment and the warmest aloha. She will be missed greatly, and I extend my deepest condolences to her loved ones.”
Congresswoman Mazie Hirono issued a statement expressing her sadness over Carroll’s passing.
“Mele’s dedicated career of public service is highlighted by her passionate involvement in key issues that embody her compassion and caring for the people of Hawaii,” she said. “I extend my deepest sympathies to the Carroll ohana.”
In 2005, Carroll started her legislative career when she received a phone call from then-Gov. Linda Lingle in February to represent the 13th District in the state House of Representatives. At the time she was working as the chief legislative liaison for Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, according to a House press release.
Carroll served as the chair of the House Committee on Human Services and as a member for the Committees on Health and Housing. In her tenure in the House, she has also been the chair of the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus and a member of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, Keiki Caucus, Kupuna Caucus and Historical Preservation Caucus.
Prior to her time in the House, when she was the executive assistant and the chief legislative liaison to Arakawa, Carroll represented Maui County at the Legislature by providing oral and written testimony, researching and drafting bills, as well as providing community updates through public forums and meetings.
As Arakawa’s chief legislative liaison, she was also responsible for writing a federal grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for $2 million dollars that contributed to the purchase of Muolea Point (73 acres) in Hana, and worked with the community to develop a management plan to preserve Muolea Point, which was known as King David Kalakaua’s summer home for the Alii, the House release says.
“Carroll was a key leader and instrumental in helping secure funding for the new emergency medical helicopter service for Maui County, working with a bipartisan coalition of community leaders,” the Houise release says.
She served as chief of staff to state Sen. Kalani English for two years, in addition to serving four years as his chief of staff at the Maui County Council. She also served on the state’s Cable Television Advisory Committee and the Na Ala Hele Trails Council.
“Carroll’s community service includes serving on the following boards of non-profit organizations: past president of the Waikikena Foundation; past president of the Maui AIDS Foundation; past vice president for the Friends of Maui County Health Organization; past board director of the Aha Alii Kapuaiwa O Kamehameha V Royal Order of Kamehameha II; past board director for the Maui Adult Day Care Center; member of the Aloha Festivals Maui Steering Committee; past board director of the Na Poe Kokua; and Paia Youth and Cultural Center. She also served as the head coach of the Lahainaluna High School’s Girls Varsity Basketball team,” the release says.
“The former representative stated many times that serving the people of Hawaii and the 13th District was a “tremendous honor” that she would never forget, and spoke of her position and the people she serve with great admiration,” the release says. “The love that she showed everyone epitomized the Aloha Spirit.”
Democrats have submitted three names to the governor from which he’ll choose a replacement to fill Carroll’s seat. A decision is expected by the end of March.