Leading by Example
This year’s St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award honoree, Ivan Lui-Kwan, lets his strong moral compass guide him in working for the good of the community.
To take the measure of a man, ask him who his mentors are.
Ivan Lui-Kwan doesn’t hesitate to name his: The Queen’s Health Systems chairman Kenny Brown, Hawai‘i Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka … and his family, especially his mother, Valentina Lang Lui-Kwan.
“She was a very spiritual person,” Lui-Kwan says of Valen-tina. “She would go to church every day, sometimes several times a day, and she made sure everybody in the family did the right thing and set the tone for the values that’s shaped not just me, but my other siblings as well — basic values like working hard, being respectful of people, helping people and just being responsible.”
And it is upon this humble foundation that Lui-Kwan is today nothing short of a community pillar, a man whose career extends from his day job as director at Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher to U.S. ambassador to the Maori people of New Zealand, whose community involvements ranged from Hawaiian Home-lands to The Queen Emma Foundation to St. Andrew’s Schools.
Little wonder that St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i has named Lui-Kwan the recipient of its third annual St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award.
“It has to do with recognizing an individual, a family or an organization —
somebody that exhibits the Franciscan values,” explains Jerry Correa, president and CEO of St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i. “These are gifts that you pass on to somebody else. The focus that we’ve been honing in on is servant leadership and putting somebody else before you.
“When we recognized Ivan Lui-Kwan and the Lui-Kwan family, we really quickly started focusing on their family and getting a good understanding of how their family has been giving back to Hawai‘i.”
Lui-Kwan and his nine brothers and sisters grew up in Hilo, where they attended St. Joseph School — which was then run by the Sisters of St. Francis.
“What we’ve contributed to other people’s lives, they’ve contributed to ours,” notes Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, board chairwoman of St. Francis Healthcare System.
From there, Lui-Kwan attended law school at Saint Martin’s University, returning home to serve as one of Richardson’s law clerks. His career as a lawyer intersected frequently with politics, as he was picked to run Akaka’s early campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives in Hawai‘i County, as well as his first statewide senate run, eventually moving on to other positions in government and The Queen’s Health Systems, to name a few.
This is how Lui-Kwan’s path crossed with those of his other mentors.
“As I think about it, those three men — Sen. Akaka, Chief Justice Richardson, Kenny Brown — they were kind of the same type. They were very gentle, kind people; they all had this spirit of ‘what do I need to do to make life better for people in this community and in this world?'”
It boils down, he says, to a constant focus on improving the lot of the many, not just the individual.
Of Brown, for example, Lui-Kwan says, “He was a really inspirational person in helping not just me, but other people understand the need to dedicate ourselves and create healthy communities.
“By healthy communities, he wasn’t just talking about medical care or physical injuries. He was really talking about healthy communities in a broad sense, meaning providing good education to people, good health, good housing, caring for families so there’s self-esteem, clean environment — so it really is kind of a holistic thing.”
With that foundation in mind, Lui-Kwan has found himself trying to hone his focus in recent years.
One project he cites as close to his heart is Hawaiki Atua, a youth leadership initiative he and other Native Hawaiian leaders run in partnership with East-West Center and the Maori tribes of New Zealand.
It draws upon his decades-long relationship with King Tuheitia as both U.S. ambassador and personal friend.
“We talk about how we can do things to help our people,” Lui-Kwan says.
Recently, he says, they brought 26 kids and teachers from St. Joseph School, Nānākuli and Wai‘anae high schools, St. Andrew’s Schools and Kupu to New Zealand for a 10-day leadership retreat.
“We’re trying to provide programming to uplift and train young native people,” he says.
Lui-Kwan is, always, a man about finding solutions.
“When I first started practicing law 28 years ago, I had a project from Ivan,” says Duane Fisher, who works with Lui-Kwan at Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher. “It didn’t really have an easy answer, and I said, ‘I couldn’t find an answer to your question,’ and he said, ‘Duane, you’ve given me nothing. This is not helpful. I need you to imagine yourself having this conversation with the client, and you’ve given me nothing to tell the client. I need you to come up with something. You have to be creative and think about it and come up with an answer, even if there isn’t one readily available.'”
That, after all, is Lui-Kwan’s bottom line: When there is a cause to be supported or a person in need of help, there is no alternative other than providing them with that support and help they need. It is every human being’s duty to help others to the best of their ability.
It is, in a nutshell, the crux of the spirit of St. Francis himself.
Looking back on his own life, Lui-Kwan’s takeaway is simple: “Stand your high moral ground, regardless of the challenges and the threats, and do what’s right.”
“It comes back to the principles and values my mother taught us: You have to be honest, you have to work hard, you have to care for people.”
Two years ago, Ivan Lui-Kwan became the first-ever outsider to be knighted by Maori King Tuheitia (inset) with the Order of the Taniwha, First Class. When he and his family prepared to travel to New Zealand to receive this honor, his friend Kamaki Kanahele told him he couldn’t possibly go without a family kīhei, a ceremonial Hawaiian garment. So Lui-Kwan had his sister Anna Akaka design one that represented the family. Some high lights: the shark tooth represents the family ‘aumakua, while the other two symbols — a wana and kalo — represent the family’s background in education and medicine, respectively.