Remembering Jerry Comcowich, Advocate For UH And Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Doug Carlson

Doug Carlson reported for the Honolulu Advertiser and KGMB-TV, served as press secretary for Congressman Cecil Heftel (D-HI), and was spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Company during Hurricane Iwa and other island-wide power outages. He is retired and lives in Meridian, ID.

Jerry Comcowich, a longtime faculty member at the University of Hawaii Manoa, passed away at the age of 80 last week. I first met him when I moved into his Enchanted Lake neighborhood in 1973.

Many of Jerry’s professional accomplishments were not included in the accompanying obituary (see below). He rarely talked of them and did not seek public recognition or credit for the results of his long service.

For example, when Jerry took sabbaticals, he did so always with the intent to return to the university he loved. The same was true when he served in the Clinton administration at the U.S. Department of Education.

His focus at DOE was improving the student loan repayment program to lessen the financial burden during the early years of a graduate’s career and increasing repayments in later years as the graduate’s income rose. He also helped craft legislation, which became law, that advantaged financial requests for college tuition.

Jerry’s federal service gave him insights into how the University of Hawaii could take full advantage of federal funding for education. He had a key role in the planning for the University’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology building on the Manoa campus. He was quietly happy the project fulfilled his vision, but as typical of him, Jerry sought no praise for his role and preferred to stay in the background.

Among those who knew Jerry best were the dozen members of a Men’s Breakfast Group, which has been convening at Honolulu restaurants for fellowship each Wednesday since 1990. Jerry was a participant in the group’s Zoom call the day before he was killed. Here are reflections from some in the group:

  • “Jerry had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved to amuse us with tales of his misadventures when he was a bus and truck driver in his youth.” – John (Note: Those misadventures included dumping a load of bricks on the New Jersey Turnpike and accidentally spraying an entire truckload of molasses inside a client’s warehouse.)
  • “One of the highlights of my week is getting together with our men’s group, particularly the stories from Jerry and his insight into matters of importance both here in Hawaii and throughout the world. I’m already missing Jerry.” – Ed
  • “Jerry was about the most solid and honest person I have known. I, along with his Band of Brothers who were so lucky to meet with him each week for breakfast over the past three decades, could always count on his support, love, and especially humor. Love and miss you, Comco!” — Rob
  • “Jerry was my best friend … He was generous, funny, and always thoughtful with his time and friendship. His loss is devastating to us all.” – Doug

Obituary

Jerome M. Comcowich, 80, of Kailua, HI, died September 3, 2020, after being struck by a car while he jogged on Keolu Drive near his home in Kailua.

Jerome was born in Peekskill, NY, to Michael J. Comcowich and Agnes L. Comcowich on August 25, 1940, and attended school at Yorktown Heights, NY. He married Marianne DiMarco Comcowich on August 27, 1966 in Rochester, NY.

Jerry Comcowich died Sept. 3 at age 80. Courtesy

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the College of Holy Cross in 1962, he earned a master’s degree from State University of New York at Albany in 1965 and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver in 1969.

Jerome initially joined the University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty that year as an assistant professor in the College of Education, where he served as an academic advisor and developmental counselor, guiding numerous students through the bureaucratic maze of higher education.

The university did not have a sailing program when he arrived, so Jerome started one. He and a neighbor built the trailer for the school’s first sailboats. Later, he introduced his children to sailing and built a small boat named Magrevin, a mashup of their names — Malia, Gregory, and Kevin.

In 1973, Jerome became a founding member of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the university’s 3,100 faculty members located on seven campuses. He served as UHPA’s first executive director.

During his long association with the University, Jerome took several leaves of absence to enhance his professional growth and serve the community with his skills, expertise, and experience.

In 1977, he joined the Washington, D.C., staff of U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga as a special assistant to the senator. His primary areas of legislative responsibility included higher education, transportation, and labor. In 1990, Jerome became a special assistant to U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka and worked on labor, education, and foreign affairs legislation.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Jerome to a post in the U.S. Department of Education, where he served as special assistant to Dr. David Longanecker, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education. Among the issues within Jerome’s purview were student financial aid and income-contingent student loans, areas he had worked on extensively while with Senator Akaka.

Jerome chaired the UHM’S AUW campaign for three years and increased giving during that period by 39 percent. He retired in 2009 from his tenured faculty position at the International Center for Climate and Society in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. His primary area of responsibility included federal legislation and public policy.

Following retirement, Jerome continued to consult regularly on matters related to public policy and federal legislation in Hawaii and Washington, D.C.

He was an active member of St. John Vianney Church in Kailua, where he served on the SJV church council for several years and sang in its choir.

Jerome was a jogger for most of his five decades in Hawaii, putting in about 10 miles a week and, according to his family, more than 27,000 miles in all. In addition to mileage, he amassed a collection of more than three dozen weight scales, the kind often associated with Lady Justice.

Jerome was an active volunteer participant in or provided support for many community organizations. Included among them were Aloha United Way, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Adult Friends of Youth, E Global Family, and the Hawaii Food Bank.

Jerome was preceded in death by his sister, Adina Zupanick (Valley Forge, PA) and his brothers Dr. William L. Comcowich (Aspen, CO); Paul O. Comcowich (Houston, TX); and Daniel J. Comcowich (Leadville, CO).

Jerome is survived by his wife of 54 years, Marianne Comcowich of Kailua, HI; children Kevin Comcowich of Honolulu (Maile McLaughlin), Gregory Comcowich of Hopkinton, MA (Amy), and Malia Comcowich of Chatham, NJ; and seven grandchildren.

A private service will be held by the family, and a celebration of life will be conducted after the COVID-19 emergency has passed. Memorial gifts may be directed to the Hawaii Food Bank, 2611 Kilihau St., Honolulu, HI 96819.

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About the Author

Doug Carlson

Doug Carlson reported for the Honolulu Advertiser and KGMB-TV, served as press secretary for Congressman Cecil Heftel (D-HI), and was spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Company during Hurricane Iwa and other island-wide power outages. He is retired and lives in Meridian, ID.


Latest Comments (0)

Mr. Comcowich is proof of genuine sincerity of commitment to Hawaii. No selfish acts to gain prominence. If what one does is good, then others will prosper. It is pono when an individual’s inner light is brighter at the end of Life then in the beginning. His light remains behind. Peace be yours, Mr. Comcowich. 

Rampnt_1 · 1 year ago

Jerry accomplished much in his time with us. He did so without seeking recognition.  So many people have benefited from Jerry 's good work and most will never know that they have him to thank for his help and support. Heaven has been made richer by his presence and we have been made poorer by his absence. I was lucky enough to know Jerry through the Mens Breakfast Group. 

JohnO · 1 year ago

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