Former Mayor Billy Kenoi dead at 52

  • Former Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi spoke last month during the inauguration of Mayor Mitch Roth in Hilo.

Former Mayor Billy Kenoi, 52, has died, friends and family said Tuesday.

Kenoi had been battling myelofibrosis, a rare form of leukemia, since 2015.

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At one of last public appearances at the Dec. 7 county inauguration, Kenoi, appearing in council chambers for the first time since he left office in 2016, praised the new council and administration during a keynote address. Kenoi, while energetic and upbeat, paused several times during his 18-minute speech to adjust the oxygen flowing through a nasal cannula that snaked under his mask.

“This is such an exciting and challenging time to be leading,” Kenoi said at the time. “I feel very good about the people we have and our ability to overcome the challenges we face.”

“You know, things turn out the best for the people who make the best of how things turn out,” he said.

Kenoi had lunch Friday at Jimmy’s Drive In with longtime friend Neil Azevedo, the county Highways Division chief, and Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung.

Azevedo, reached Tuesday afternoon, was disconsolate.

“We had a great time at lunch,” Azevdo said. “He was always positive. He had the biggest heart for everybody.”

Chung expressed condolences to Kenoi’s family.

“I wouldn’t have thought that he was ill; his mind and his mouth were as sharp as ever,” Chung said. “We had a great time, and now I looked back at that luncheon, I’m so sad and also grateful that we had that time together.”

Condolences began to pour in late Tuesday.

Among them was from U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele, who called Kenoi a friend and mentor.

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“Billy leaves an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of the people of Hawaii, especially those lives he generously touched on Hawaii Island,” Kahele said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed.”

Kenoi leaves behind his wife Takako, his daughter Mahina, and his sons Justin and Liam.

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