Mark Takai, a Democrat from Hawaii serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, has passed away.

His office confirmed the congressman’s death Wednesday in Honolulu. He was 49.

Takai’s office released a statement saying: “The Takai family thanks the people of Hawaii for their support during this difficult time. Information regarding a service will be available at a later time. The Takai family politely asks for the continued respect of their family’s privacy.”

Takai had already announced he would not seek re-election. Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is among the candidates running to fill his seat.

Congressman Mark Takai editorial board1. 29 march 2016.
Congressman Mark Takai in Civil Beat’s offices earlier this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Takai is fondly remembered by many, including top elected officials.

“Mark was always a fighter,” said President Barack Obama. “It’s the spirit he brought to more than two decades of public service on behalf of the people of Hawaii. He stood up for America’s most vulnerable. He championed our troops and veterans, and proudly wore our nation’s uniform. And his relentless push for cancer research inspired countless Americans fighting the same battle as him. Simply put, our country is better off because of Mark’s contributions. “

“Mark humbly and effectively served the people of his state House and Congressional districts,” said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. “In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant.”

Said House Speaker Joe Souki: “Mark was a thoughtful and caring public servant and a good friend to all of us in the state House. To say that he will be missed is not just a cliché but a heavy and sad reality.”

Hanabusa said she was “deeply saddened” to hear of Takai’s death: “We have lost a great public servant who dedicated his life to making Hawaii and our nation a better place. We will miss him dearly.”

Longtime Legislator

Takai, who served 20 years in the state House of Representatives before his election to urban Oahu’s 1st Congressional District in 2014, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last October.

He launched a re-election campaign earlier this year but announced in May that his cancer had spread and so dropped out of the race.

As a state legislator, Takai’s focus was on public education. He also was responsible for legislation that created the Hawaii Medal of Honor to recognize fallen island troops and their families.

In Washington, D.C., education continued to be a priority, but so too did national security — he was especially concerned about defense against North Korea — veterans’ issue and small business.

Takai served as a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.

He was a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard and took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving in Kuwait in 2009.

25 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Rep. Takai during services at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Memorial Day 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Takai’s death is particularly hard felt by other members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

Said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a former state representative, “This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark.”

“In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant.” —Gov. David Ige

Schatz’s Democratic colleague in the Senate, Mazie Hirono, said, “I affectionately called Mark my younger brother. We shared so many of the same values and supported each other during challenging times.”

Meantime, Hawaii’s other Democrat in the House who also served with Takai in the state Legislature and in the armed forces — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — stated, “Mark’s smiling face and ready laugh will truly be missed, but the impact that he made through his life of service to the people of Hawaii will always be remembered.”

Former colleagues here at home also offered praise for the late lawmaker.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, “I was lucky to have worked with Mark in the state House and the commitment and dedication he had for his country, his state and Hawaii’s many diverse communities was obvious to all.”

As news of Takai’s passing spread quickly, condolences from his congressional colleagues soon poured out on Twitter, The Washington Post reported.

This came from House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican: “He was an exemplary soldier, public servant and beloved member of the House of Representatives. His love for Hawaii and the people he represented was evident every day.”

Proud UH Grad

An Episcopalian, Takai lived in Aiea on Oahu. He is survived by his wife, Sami, and two children, Matthew and Kaila.

Takai was born July 1, 1967 in Honolulu and graduated from Pearl City High School in 1985.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1990 and a master’s degree in 1993, both from the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Takai swam for the school throughout his undergrad years and was a strong supporter of UH athletics — support that continued after he was elected to office.

He also served as student body president and was editor of the student newspaper, Ka Leo O Hawaii.

It was while at UH that Takai’s passion for politics gelled. But he also cared for his fellow service members and their needs, especially those who later fell on hard times such as homelessness.

Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald noted that Takai was “a strong supporter” of the Hawaii State Judiciary’s Veterans Treatment Court and its outreach efforts.

“He went out of his way to consistently recognize and encourage the participants, team members, and mentors involved in this program,” Recktenwald said.

Tweets of condolences for U.S. Rep. Mark Takai:

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