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(POSTED 4/6/06)

In recent months, Hawai`i has lost two important voices on behalf of rational environmental planning and liberal social causes: Martha Black and Astrid Monson. Both women were in their 90s. In recent years, declining health had removed them from active involvement in the issues that had been so close to their hearts for decades.

Their loss pushes to the forefront the question of passing the torch. The deeds of both these modest women are staggering and testify to the difference that one person can make. Will anyone step forward carry on the tasks that they left undone? In an age when households require two wage-earners (at least) and activist organizations that once relied on volunteers find fewer and fewer people able or willing (to say nothing of knowledgeable and articulate) to enlist, the deaths of women such as these may mark the end of an era.

Martha Black

We mourn the passing of Martha Black, who died in January. Martha, 93, had been slowed by infirmity the last few years. But many in the Hawai`i environmental community will remember her as the persistent, driving force behind the ten almost-annual People’s Water Conferences.

To say Martha cared about water is to master the understatement. She believed devoutly in the Hawai`i Water Code and the deference it gave to Hawaiian, riparian, and instream uses. As she was fond of telling anyone who would listen, she developed the idea of a “people’s” water conference, where admission was free or at minimal cost to anyone who wanted to attend, after a more traditional conference on water rights in the 1980s was closed to all but those who could pay its expensive registration fees. The first one was held in 1984; the last in 1995. In 1996, Hawai`i’s Thousand Friends honored Martha with its “Unsung Hero” award.

Martha had wide and varied interests, extending well beyond water. Those of us who knew her are grateful for the privilege.

Astrid Monson

Astrid Monson died in April. She and her husband, Donald, both experts in city planning, moved to Hawai`i in 1973 to retire – but they continued to work long after they arrived as volunteers and citizen activists. Donald died in 1991, but Astrid remained active for several more years as head of the Planning and Zoning Committee of the League of Women Voters of Honolulu. Her voice, tinged with just a hint of a German accent, was often heard at meetings of the Honolulu City Council. And although she often voiced a minority view, her opinions were always respected.

Astrid was a founding member of Hawai`i’s Thousand Friends. In 1996, she received, along with Martha Black, the group’s “Unsung Hero” award.

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