Earlier this month, we lost our dear Tiona Wailehua who worked with Kama Hopkins and me for our first seven years here at OHA. Kama shares his reflection of “T”. She truly was a gracious woman, a Wahine Waipahē.
For nearly 25 years, Tiona Wailehua shared her aloha with all of us here at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). She was a gracious woman, a wahine waipahē who greeted you with a smile and a sweet greeting of “Aloha.” In our first seven years here at OHA, both Trustee Robert Lindsey and I enjoyed not only her sweet spirit, but also her sage advice in communicating with our beneficiaries…our people…regarding OHA’s mission.
“T”, as she was graciously referred-to, always treated our people as if they were her own ‘ohana. That is what made her a perfect fit. People would call our office wanting to speak with our Trustee. As he resides on Hawai‘i Island, he would not always be in the office. On occasion, the caller would be frustrated or upset with something OHA did or did not do. She would listen with patience. She would respond with kindness and gratitude and thanked them for calling and sharing their concern. I was asked sometimes to follow-up with that caller and obtain more information. When I did, the person on the other end of the line would often ask me to thank “T” for responding to them and listening. Her gentle way about her often came through on the telephone just as it did in person.
She was always quick to reflect on the good example I had before me. I can remember times when I was a little apprehensive about how to approach a situation in just the right way. She would often ask me this question, “What would our Trustee do?” A smile would appear on her face and it would then appear on mine. That calmed my nerves and I would utter these words in some fashion, “Whatever it is, he would do it with aloha.” I usually made a call after that to whomever I needed to call and would then “talk story” as our Trustee still does to this day.
She had years of experience in this job. She could have easily told me what to do and how to do it. She served as an Administrative Assistant to eight OHA Trustees during her tenure at OHA. However, she would always tell me to follow Trustee Lindsey’s example and do things as he would. She never wanted any spotlight…she just wanted me to do my best and learn from everyone around me. I will forever be grateful for her example of being a servant leader. Again, she was a true wahine waipahē.
As I share these reflections about her, I can hear her saying, “My darling honey baby…no need to talk about me. Just keep smiling and taking care of our Trustee and our people.” I hope to continue to do just that. She has now gone on to reunite with others in her family who went on before her. I can see her smiling and asking them, “Okay. What work needs to be done over here?” Time to rest, “T”… you have definitely earned it. Aloha nui ā hui hou i ka wā kūpono!