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The following is a letter written by Jane Takahashi, to the editor of the Hawai`i Tribune Herald.
IN MEMORY OF "REGGIE" OKAMURA
Reginald ("Reggie") T. Okamura, beloved former Chief of Operations of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, died peacefully in his sleep at Hilo Medical Center on January 16, 1999. His funeral service on the 20th was a visible reminder of the influence Reg has had on the lives of hundreds of people who came to pay tribute to him.
Reggie began his career at HVO as a Physical Science Technician in 1958, after receiving a degree in entomology, with a minor in chemistry, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In 1978, he became Chief of Operations, a position he held until his retirement in 1992.
In his capacity as Chief of Operations, he was "the voice of the volcano" to the press and to the public, who looked to him for the latest news of Kilauea. After a long series of days and nights manning the phones and radio at HVO, he was fond of saying, with a deep chuckle (his trademark "heh-heh-heh"), "I could never get her (Pele) to erupt between the hours of 8:00 a.m and 4:30 p.m." He was unfailingly courteous to the public, and he collaborated tirelessly with State and County Civil Defense officials to mitigate the hazards from volcanic activity.
As a volcanologist, his memory for detail of both the people who "made science happen" and the papers they published was legendary. He strongly advocated that scientists make careful observations first and collect data methodically, before making speculations about what was happening with his favorite volcano.
As a supervisor to the support staff, he was a mentor, father figure, and friend. In his gentle management style, he welcomed the staff to sit on his brown sofa to "talk story" no matter how busy he was and, as a result, learned more about them than through more conventional ways of managing a staff. But his "baby" was the Minority Program for the Earth Sciences (MPES), whose students he lovingly guided toward their career goals as if they were his own sons and daughters.
Individually and collectively, we at HVO mourned Reggie's passing. We worked through our tears, recalling what he meant to each one of us. Whenever someone shared a story about Reggie, we wept together in mutually shared grief. Reg and the working environment he created were at the heart of "the soul of HVO."
We are keenly aware of the many people "out there" who have been at HVO--alumni, students, volunteers, visiting scientists, administrators, and friends--and who have stories they would like to share about Reggie. We are, therefore, creating a section on our web site at "/," where such recollections can be sent for all to remember him by.
If you have stories to share, please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 1st. If you have pictures to share, please send them as an attachment, and we will scan them for web presentation. You may also mail them to me:
U.S. Geological Survey
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
P.O. Box 51
Hawaii National Park, HI 96718
After the stories have been collected, they will be put on our web site, and a complete set will be given to his wife Jane and family. A copy will reside in the HVO library. Thank you, in anticipation of your contribution to this book of memories of Reggie.
Updated: 8 Feb 1999