A celebration of life for a beloved Law School graduate

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly A. Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Jul 27, 2015

Shirley Naomi Kanani Garcia
Shirley Naomi Kanani Garcia

When her friend, Jade Wong ‘10, wanted to attempt a triathlon, Shirley Garcia ‘02 spent hours training her to swim in the smooth, strong freestyle at which she excelled.

When her sister, Margaret Garcia Dalzell, took up zumba, Garcia listened attentively to why she was so passionate about it, and then took it up herself, mostly as a way to support her sister.  

And when Law Professor Chris Iijima was dying of a rare blood disease, Garcia stepped in to help direct the Ulu Lehua Scholars program at the William S. Richardson School of Law, nurturing and guiding it successfully through two stressful years.

“People like Shirley don’t come along very often,” Dean Avi Soifer told more than 100 people gathered in the Law School’s Moot Court Room Friday afternoon, July 24, to celebrate the life of this generous, loving and gracious woman who could also be "sassy" as well as sophisticated.

“She was a fierce fighter for social justice,” said Soifer, “while still being a gentle human being. And she was always there when needed. Shirley truly embodied the qualities and the spirit of our namesake, Chief Justice William S. Richardson, and served the community unstintingly.”

Moments of grace from the life of this extraordinary woman are carved indelibly into the DNA of Hawai‘i’s only law school. And, as friends and family came together to share memories of Shirley Naomi Kanani Garcia, who passed away May 30, the impact she made on those around her came alive again.

In loving words, a life of deep meaning was etched indelibly by the people with whom Garcia worked, lived and shared passionate ideals of social justice in her years at Richardson, and especially during her leadership of the Ulu Lehua program that provides extra support for students from underserved communities who have overcome adversity.

Former Associate Law Dean Laurie Tochiki spoke of the immense “gift” of love Shirley gave to those around her, while her sister, Margaret Dalzell, told of the hula Garcia loved to perform, and the time she performed wearing their grandmother’s hat and lei as a symbol of respect and affection.

Scott Brown, a co-worker at the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission, talked about her precision and professionalism, but also their friendship and kidding over morning coffee. “Shirley was just a ray of sunshine,” Brown said. “It was always best just to be in her presence.”

Garcia had been the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission’s longest serving enforcement attorney, director William Hoshijo told the gathering. “She had a sharp legal mind and a strong work ethic,” said Hoshijo. “She valued fairness and loved justice and her door was always open.”

Garcia played an especially important role at the Law School during difficult times early in 2005, stepping in to lead and nurture the Ulu Lehua program when its director, Chris Iijima, was ill. She provided support for Iijima while still maintaining a full-time job as a state attorney. And when Chris passed away at the end of that year, she played a major role in planning the celebration of his life held in a UH ballroom, complete with white tablecloths and a magical aura created by glowing tea lights.

Professor Calvin Pang shared moments about the time he spent as her co-director in guiding the program before Professor Linda Krieger assumed its leadership. “I was Shirley Naomi’s ‘OK man,’” he said, to laughter from the assemblage. “She would say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and I would say ‘OK,’ because she was always right.”

And Krieger, who was hired as the program’s new director, shared her memories of how tough her first interview with Garcia had been.  “She really grilled me,” said Krieger. “This program was precious to her. She wanted to make sure this was the right person to receive it.”

Even in the first years of Krieger’s leadership, Garcia was often nearby. “She was always appearing at just the right moment,” Krieger remembered, “and I came to realize she was there quietly watching. When I needed her she was always there.”

With her family always in her heart – and often traveling with her to such exotic locales as Venice, Paris and the wilds of Alaska for some exuberant kayaking – her sister described how Garcia is now always in theirs.

“I feel her every day,” said her sister, brushing away tears, and speaking on behalf of their parents, Tokiko and Robert Garcia. “She’s all around us.”

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/