By Diane Peters-Nguyen, CEO, American Red Cross, Pacific Islands Region
All my life I’d heard the story of my grandmother, Mollie Kananipauʻole Akana Peters, and how she celebrated her birthday as a young girl annually with Queen Liliʻuokalani. The family lived on the Queen’s land in Waikīkī (an area known as Hamohamo) and my father said that through the Queen’s retainer (“Big Tutu,” as she was known to my father), word was sent to the Queen when little baby “Kanani” (my grandmother) was born in 1905, auspiciously just a day after the Queen’s birthday.
The family reserved a rocker on the lānai for the Queen to come and sit and visit with little Kanani on her birthday. The Queen also invited Kanani to join the Queen on September 2 for celebrations honoring her own birthday.
Later, my father, David M. Peters, would serve as chair and, for almost three decades, as a trustee of Liliʻuokalani Trust where the Queen’s birthday commemoration was an annual event. My own service as president of the board of Hui Hānai, has enabled me to play a role in perpetuating the Queen’s legacy through a documentary film and publications, the latest of which is the Diaries of Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaiʻi, edited and annotated by David Forbes.
Prior to accepting my Red Cross position, I learned about the Queen’s role in helping to establish the Hawaiʻi Red Cross. She was an avid supporter of the organization due to its humanitarian mission. In September 1917, one of the last things she did – just several weeks before she passed away – was donate $100 to become a patron and help launch our very first membership drive. Some 16,000 people (a significant portion of the island’s population) became members.
Prior to the membership drive, the Queen, with some helpers, sewed a large Red Cross flag which flew above ʻIolani Palace during World War I. When the Queen presented this proud emblem to the Red Cross on Sept. 14, 1917, she stated, “The flag is an expression of my warm and hearty sympathy for the cause of humanity.”
On my first day of work in July of 2020, upon my arrival at our Hawaiʻi Red Cross headquarters at Diamond Head, I asked to be shown the Queen’s Flag. I was ushered into the board room where the flag dominates the front wall, encased under glass in a koa frame. I could feel the Queen’s mana imbued into the fabric she had handled, and her spirit of aloha permeate my being. And, in that moment, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be, doing what I was meant to do.