Richard Marks died on December 9, 2008. Most of you have never heard of Richard, but he played a major role in Hawaii over the past 50+ years.
Richard suffered from Hansen's Disease. He still preferred to call it leprosy. Richard contracted the disease sometime prior to 1949. At the time, at age 20, he worked in the Merchant Marines primarily in the Far East.
On one of his return visits to Hawaii to see family, he was diagnosed. He originally decided to seek treatment at the national leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, but finally decided to return to Hawaii in 1956. He died where he had lived for the past 52 years - in Kalaupapa, the former "leper colony" located on the north shore of the island of Molokai.
Efforts to Preserve Kalaupapa
Because of Richard's efforts, Kalaupapa will always remain one place in Hawaii safe from development. Richard worked with the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink to get legislation passed that brought Kalaupapa under the management of the National Park Service in 1980.
As important as that effort was to ensure the preservation of Kalaupapa, it was hardly Richard's only accomplishment.
Outspoken Advocate for Patient's Rights
Richard was outspoken for the rights of patients suffering from Hansen's Disease and it was through his efforts that led to the repeal of the laws in Hawaii which for many years took fathers and mothers from their children and children from their parents simply because they suffered from what was known as leprosy.
Owner and Operator of Damien Tours
Since 1966, Richard and his wife Gloria have run Damien Tours, named in honor of Belgian priest Damien DeVeuster who ministered to the patients in Kalaupapa from 1872 until his death, from Hansen's Disease, in 1889. The tours take small groups of visitors through Kalaupapa. Each tour not only features visits to the area's historic locations such as Father Damien's Church, but, on most days, prior to just recently, also included Richard himself who talked about the history of the settlement and his own personal struggles with the disease.
My Memories of Richard Marks
I was first scheduled to visit Kalaupapa in 2003, but had to postpone my trip down the sea cliff by mule when I broke my arm on Oahu. The next year while visiting Maui I took a direct flight over to Kalaupapa from Kapalua Airport via Paragon Air. It was on that visit that I met Richard.
I'll always remember how hard it was to hear Richard especially if you were sitting in the back of the old school bus which he used to take visitors around the settlement. Richard spoke just barely above a whisper, but, when he spoke people listened.
Just as his louder voice spoke out for the rights of the remaining patients and the preservation of the settlement years before, his much quieter voice then educated visitors about the history of the settlement and the suffering of the thousands of men, women and children who were exiled there from 1866 till as late as 1969.
Richard's wife, Gloria, has expressed her intention to continue operating Damien Tours.
Funeral masses will be held in both Honolulu and Kalaupapa with burial at Kalaupapa.
More detailed information on Richard Marks can be found in the excellent article Remembering Richard in the Molokai Dispatch dated December 14, 2008.