Dr. Hokama’s Biography

Presented by Glenn Kimura

Aloha everyone, we would like to start the formal portion of the program to honor Dr. Hokama. My name is Glenn Kimura, better known to you doctors of our generation as Lucy’s husband. I was the guy hanging around the biomedical building, that ugly building with the chinaman’s hat, waiting for Lucy to finish work on the fish.

After having lunch with Dr. Hokama and Aunty Kiki last week and listening to Dr. Hokama talk about his past, I was compelled to help my wife by agreeing to give you a brief biography of our man of honor. You see, Dr. Hokama is pretty much “one of a kind”, and hopefully you will understand “why” after I finish talking.

Dr. Hokama, or Hoagy, as his close friends call him, is 85 years old. He was born in Kohala, on the Big Island, on October 25, 1926. In high school, he was tall for a Japanese boy and played basketball in high school. Unlike most local folks, attending a university or college in the olden days was rare. Obviously, he was smart and went to UH Manoa between 1943 and 1945. If you watch the history channel, those were the years of the big war and Japan was our enemy.

In 1946, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served until 1949. The 442nd Battalion and the 100th Brigade heroically paved the way for Japanese-Americans and us locals, and one would think that he would have to join them. However, because of his college education, his MO or military occupation was as a microbiologist, not infantry. In the Army, the haoles couldn’t say his first name, Yoshitsugi. So his moniker to close friends to this day, is Hoagy, a nickname for Hokama. His fellow microbiologists apparently saw great promise in him and after he was discharged, encouraged him to continue his education at UCLA where he got a free ride with the GI Bill. Evidently, his basketball talents were good enough for him to make the team. What team? Would you believe he was a UCLA Bruin and played for Coach John Wooden?

While at UCLA, Dr. Hokama met Haru, a fellow student and married her in 1951, the same year he obtained his BA degree from UCLA. He continued at UCLA picking up a Masters Degree in 1953 on the way to a PhD in Microbiology in 1957. At UCLA, he began his graduate research career as a microbiologist in the Department of Radiology at the UCLA Health Science Center, where he worked until 1966. His son Jon and daughter Julie were born in Santa Monica during these early years.

He joined the Department of Pathology staff at the John A. Burns School of Medicine as an Associate Professor in 1966 and quickly became a full professor of pathology in 1968. His research focused on the characterization and immunoregulatory functions of C-reactive protein, an acute phase protein and its chemical relationship to the liver enzyme, catalase. His interest in immunopathology quickly expanded into studies of phospholipids, prostaglandins and marine toxins. His more recent work includes developing the first worldwide commercial test for ciguatoxin and work on acute phase lipids in chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Sandy Chang has put together a poster of his major scientific accomplishments, because Lucy and Sandy knew I couldn’t say these big science words.

After a 42 year career of research, inventions and teaching, he retired from the John A. Burns School of Medicine in 2008, something he told us he regrets at lunch last week. Just like my neighbor, 91 year old Professor Emeritus, George Herbig of the Astronomy Dept, gifted scientists feel their work is never done.

Although I don’t want to downplay his major accomplishments, I would like to reflect on a Dr. Hokama that I know and greatly respect. I think he would appreciate what I am going to say. Dr. Hokama was a champion of local kids. Having confronted racial discrimination head on in the service and on the mainland and even at UH, he would often lament the fact that Hawaii’s kids were just as smart as others, and local UH professors were just as good or better than mainland imports.

Many of you owe your careers to Dr. Hokama. We all know how tough it is getting into medical school and good graduate schools. Dr. Hokama was always willing to give motivated students the opportunity to strengthen their applications by working in his lab, whether by running sophisticated tests, washing dishes or volunteering to clean the rat cages. He encouraged students to rise to the challenges of scientific research even as undergraduates. Many of his students accomplished enough work to become published authors of journal articles and abstracts and forced them to get up and present their work at symposia. His recommendations carried a lot of weight in support of their applications.

While Lucy worked for Dr. Hokama, she would see a parade of students putting in their time. Of these Hoagy’s heroes, one that stands out is Dr. Raymond Tam. I remember Lucy telling me that an experimental duck had died but then disappeared. A few days later, Ray shows up with a pot of roasted Peking duck… he had taken it home and cooked it. She said it tasted great.

In addition to the distinguished Dr. Tam, the list is impressive: Dr. Eugene Yanagihara, would go on to be Chief Pathologist at Kuakini Hospital, Dr. Stacey Honda, Chief Pathologist at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Danny Takanishi, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at JABSOM, Drs. Ken Sumida and Ian Okazaki, outstanding clinical oncologists and the list goes on and on, not only in Hawaii, but around the entire country with doctors such as Dr. Collin Goto, a pediatric emergency physician in Texas and Dr. Derek Uchida, a pediatric pulmonologist in Utah. In all, about 150 former students of Dr. Hokama have gone on to rewarding careers in medicine and the basic sciences. And who would have anticipated back then that in my recent bout with cancer, some of these top doctors would be there to save my life.
Imagine… we have filled a room with over 50 distinguished and accomplished doctors and close friends, all who came to pay tribute to their mentor and hero. I don’t know of any educator with such a loyal following.

So, now you know why Dr. Hokama is one of a kind. A local kid from Kohala, Army Veteran, a John Wooden basketball player, recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Research Award by the National CFIDS foundation, Professor Emeritus of JABSOM’s Department of Pathology and champion of local kids who went on to become distinguished medical doctors, dentists and PhDs. With that, I would like you all to stand and express your thanks by giving him a rousing round of applause. Thank you Dr. Hokama for all that you have done.

2 thoughts on “History

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Death’s Doorstep | Jon Hokama and Associates, LLC

  2. Pingback: The Penultimate Liminal Dimension: Lessons from Death’s Doorstep | American Business Advisors

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