Allan F. Saunders
Allan and Marion Saunders
Photo courtesy of Honolulu Magazine
In honor of Allan's memory and of his role in the League, we asked four League members to give us their remembrances of Allan and what made him such a special person.
This issue of the Leo Hana is dedicated to the memory of the League's founding father in Hawai'i, Allan F. Saunders. Allan came to teach political science at the University of Hawaii in 1945, a time of great social and political in Hawai'i. According to his wife Marion, Allan had learned about the League on the mainland and had great respect for its reputation. On arriving in Hawai'i, Allan saw that it was a time of preparing for new political leadership and sensed that the League could play an important role in this process. Soon thereafter he founded the Honolulu League of Women Voters.
Long-time colleague in the Political Science Department, Norm Meller, and his wife Terza, remembered what Allan had stood for from his earliest days at UH:
"It is no mean feat to adhere steadfastly to a deeply-felt civic principles while living a life sympathetically attuned of your fellow man. That Allan Saunders succeeded in doing tribute to his rarity.
"Something that occurred not long after Al Saunders joined the University of Hawaii faculty epitomized this capacity: He challenged the dress requirements then observed on the Manoa campus, appreciating that the Aloha shirt was more attuned to Island life. Superficially this objection seemed aimed at the personal comfort of the wearer, given the Island weather, but there was far more at stake. At that time, the class lines drawn in Hawai'i differentiated the shirt wearer, complete with tie, and preferably suit coat, from those in Island garb, the Aloha shirt. Al Saunders recognized that a dysfunctional symbolism was being flaunted, setting teacher apart from a student body mainly drawn from the Aloha shirt stratum of Hawai'i's people. As such the University dress code ran counter to his value premises as well as raised an hindrance to establishing the rapport necessary to accomplish the University's educational mission.
"The University Administration patently disapproved, but Al persisted. With other faculty following his example, the Administration temporized, and ultimately conceded."
Senator Mary George shared her remembrances of Allan at a May 5th service celebrating his life. After noting that most of those present had probably known Allan as a notable academic, she said:
"I'm one example of the reach of his influence beyond the academic neighborhood. He was a contagious person he touched people with ideas and frequently infected them. And through them, I believe, he made real changes in the larger community.
"I played on two teams with Allan both community-wide citizen efforts. One was a push for acceptance of a code of ethics for the public service; the second was a campaign to raise public consciousness about an impending constitutional convention. Both of us ended up in these efforts through the League of Women Voters I as its malihini president, and Allan as its founding father or perhaps its godfather.
"When the Citizens Committee on Ethics in Government was formed, it seemed quite natural to turn to Allan for help. Did we need current perspective or historical precedent? Ask Allan. Would a dignified and respected scholar lend credibility to our effort? Allan would park on the platform, or preside if necessary. Were we having trouble persuading some important type to pay attention to us? Allan made the necessary call.
"Often the rest of us yo-yoed from optimism to despair and back again with the changing fortunes of our ethics crusade. Not Allan. Unfailingly calm, and always the teacher, he somehow managed to illuminate a new way to try...
"I've tried to think what was most different about my friend Allan Saunders. And I decided the rarest thing about Allan is that he was all of one piece. Most of us are patchwork: a collection of notions and, eclectic ideas; taught, or caught by contagion, or borrowed, or stolen. Not Allan. He was seamless and matchless."
League member Liesel Philipp spoke of the visits she and her husband had with Allan during his last months when he was overcome physically with what has come to be known as Lou Gehrig's disease:
"Ordinarily I would expect a visit with so severely a handicapped person to be a depressing experience. However, I found the visits with Allan uplifting. Here was a man flat on his back, unable to speak, and immobile except for a weak movement of one hand and one finger on it. He had a wonderful ability to express himself with his eyes. His intellectual capacity was not limited at all: He was interested in life, politics, people, and ideas…
"I, a healthy person, found it strenuous to try to follow Allan putting together his ideas. Not Allan, who seemed to delight in stimulating 'conversation'. His eyes would light up when you understood what he wanted to convey.
"Allan was, or better 'is', for he is still with me, an artist at living and giving."
Those who knew Allan would agree with the Honolulu Advertiser's editorial, which said that Allan, "through his own actions and those of the people he inspired, helped make Hawai'i a more progressive, tolerant, and humane place... To the end, he was an inspiration to those around him as he was to countless student and friends over the years."