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Margaret Ushijima, 86, dies


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Margaret Ushijima, a trailblazing woman who had three successful careers and influenced generations, died Saturday at Hilo Medical Center. She was 86.

Born Margaret Shizue Kunishige on Oct. 6, 1927, in Laupahoehoe, she earned her Masters of Social Service degree from Smith College in 1952. In 1963, she left social work for the University of Hawaii Hilo Campus, which became the University of Hawaii at Hilo, serving as dean of students. After retiring from that post in 1980, she entered the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, graduating in 1983. She joined her husband, John Ushijima, the former state Senate president, in the family law firm Ushijima & Ushijima. She retired in 2003, and John Ushijima died in 2006.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, the county’s director of environmental management, called Ushijima “a role model for all the women lawyers I know” and “one of the most remarkable women I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing.”

“My going to law school was, in a great part, because Margaret Ushijima had gone,” Leithead Todd said.

Ushijima was present at a fundraiser for Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Nov. 7 in Hilo and was recognized as his campaign’s honorary chairwoman.

Janet Fujioka, Ushijima’s longtime friend, said when Ushijima dedicated herself to a cause, “there was a complete commitment.”

“She and I campaigned throughout the islands to push for the Equal Rights Amendment. Hawaii was the first state to ratify it,” Fujioka said. The proposed U.S. Constitutional amendment to guarantee equal rights to women was passed by the U.S. Senate and House in 1972, but fell short of gaining ratification by the number of states necessary for adoption.

The Ushijimas were recognized by UH-Hilo in 2009 with a Distinguished Service Award.

“She and John didn’t have any children, so they made everybody else’s theirs and they helped a number of people in terms of guiding them and starting them off in their careers,” Leithead Todd said. “… If you asked me if there was somebody I wanted to be like, Margaret would be the person I would name.”

Visitation is 3-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Church of the Holy Cross, 440 W. Lanikaula St. in Hilo. Celebration of life is at 4 p.m. Casual attire is requested and no flowers.

Ushijima is survived by a sister, Katherine Kinue Johnson of San Diego; two brothers, Edward Sadao (Edith) Kunishige of Gardena, Calif., and Albert Naomi Kunishige of Coos Bay, Ore.; sister-in-law, Yaeko Kunishige of Hilo; and nieces and nephews.

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