Mānoa Heritage Center



Sam & Mary Cooke

From Paintings, Prints, and Drawings of Hawaii from the Sam and Mary Cooke Collection by David Forbes (2016):

Lila Cooke lived at Kūaliʻi until her death in 1970. She left her home to her son Charley, and she left her garden (which included Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau) to her daughter Carolene. Sam talked his father into letting him buy Kūaliʻi, and he, Mary, and their three young daughters Julie, Cathy, and Edi moved in soon after. In 1992 when the garden was sold and divided up into eight lots, Sam and Mary purchased the lot that included the heiau, and two additional lots adjacent to the property. They enlisted a trusted friend, Hawaiian cultural preservationist Nathan Napoka, to advise on the preservation of the heiau. Nathan recommended that they hire archaeologist Myra Tuggle to survey the site. Sam and Mary were amazed to learn that Myra’s grandparents, the Tomonaris, had lived and worked at Kūaliʻi for many years. Nathan also suggested that they hire Billy Fields, a Hawaiian stone mason from Kona, to restore the heiau. He did a magnificent job of repairing and restoring Kūkaʻōʻō using only stones associated with the site. Upon completion of the restoration, Sam and Mary began to incorporate significant and endangered native plants into the surrounding landscape; today the gardens are a showcase for the cultivation of native Hawaiian plants in a modern setting. In 1996 they established the Mānoa Heritage Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting an understanding of Hawaiʻi’s cultural and natural heritage. In 2000, Kūaliʻi, its gardens, and Kūkaʻōʻō heiau were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Cooke family tradition, and about the time they moved into their first house on the property, Sam and Mary began to acquire paintings of Hawaiʻi — at first casually, and then with determination — eventually forming a comprehensive collection. Simultaneously, Sam began to judiciously build a collection of printed pictorial matter, books, and atlases; the result is a superb compilation of seminal works on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi, all in pristine condition. Together, these two collections are unsurpassed by any other private collection in the islands.

From Paintings, Prints, and Drawings of Hawaii from the Sam and Mary Cooke Collection by David Forbes (2016) (p xvii):

A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Central Union Church in Honolulu on January 16, 2016, to honor and celebrate the life of Samuel Alexander Cooke, who died on December 2, 2015, at his home, Kūaliʻi in Mānoa Valley. A descendant of Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke, who arrived in Hawaiʻi with the eighth company of missionaries in 1837, Sam was born in Honolulu and grew up on Oʻahu and Molokaʻi. A graduate of Punahou School and Cornell University, he retired as senior vice president of Morgan Stanley, where he was a financial advisor to public, private and nonprofit corporations. A generous benefactor and mentor, Sam served as the founding chairman of the board of governors for the Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi, chairman of the Honolulu Academy of Arts (now the Honolulu Museum of Art), and chairman of the Hawaii Community Foundation. Together with his wife, Mary Moragne Cooke, he founded the Mānoa Heritage Center, which includes the ancient Hawaiian heiau, Kūkaʻōʻō, the historic Cooke family home Kūaliʻi, and the Sam and Mary collection of paintings, prints, and drawings of Hawaiʻi. Long-time friend, David Lee, delivered the eulogy for Sam at Central Union Church, and it has been adapted here for publication.

Telling It Like It Is – A Remembrance by David Lee

Sam would have enjoyed this gathering — the music, the conversations, the laughter — all of which express our shared happiness for having known him. Last spring when Sam asked me to speak at his memorial service I questioned him about what he wanted me to say. “Just tell it like it is,” he advised. A couple of weeks before his death, while we were sitting in his living room at Kualii talking about paintings, books, politics, and the joys of Tropilicious spumoni ice cream, he startled me by saying, “I don’t think that I’m going to make it. Will you speak?” “Do you still want me to ‘tell it like it is’?” I replied. His response was the quintessential Sam Cooke smile: at once beatific and mischievous. It reminded me of the observation attributed to Marcus Aurelius that when death smiles at you, the only thing to do is smile back.

Sam was a lovely man, upon whom fortune smiled. He was born into a prosperous family, well established in these beautiful islands. He was blessed with intelligence, and he cultivated diligence and generosity. The historian Edward Gibbon observed, “The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators,” and Sam navigated tumultuous times in Hawaiʻi with grace, skill, and vision. He was the most unusual of persons–a visionary pragmatist. He knew how to dream and he knew how to organize people to work toward positive, restorative change. Although Sam lived the meaning of 1 John 3:18—“[L]et us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth,” he did not shy away from using his narrative gifts and persuasive abilities to inspire action and accomplishment.

Sam was a conservative in the best sense of the word– he sought to conserve what was unique to Hawaiʻi’s environment and culture. But Sam was also progressive in the sense that he was always looking ahead–his normal greeting was, “What’s new?” He embraced the new because he was an optimist. For Sam, the past served as an inspiration for shaping the future in diverse and beneficial ways for our island community.

Recently, Sam’s daughter, Julie, mentioned how much her father liked characters–people with distinctive, even eccentric, personalities. This explains in part, I think, his long, successful working relationship with Harry Weinberg, the rough and colorful Baltimore business genius who, after Statehood, shook up the sclerotic, local corporate world and, in the process, created the corpus for the now-esteemed Weinberg Foundation. When I first learned that Sam had been Weinberg’s stockbroker, my mind reeled amidst the shattering of the missionary-descendant stereotype into which I had carelessly tossed Sam. Sam and Harry came from vastly different worlds, but Sam liked and respected him, often affectionately referring to him as “my patron.” One of Weinberg’s idiosyncrasies was that while he could remember arcane, corporate financial details, he wasn’t good with names, always referring to Mary simply as “The Wife”.

Well, Sam had never been luckier than when he had finally convinced Mary Moragne to become The Wife. I say “finally” because, when they were in high school he had audaciously expressed his awareness of her in the form of a wager: “I bet you that I marry you one day.” Mary quickly riposted, “I bet you five dollars you don’t”, five dollars being a tidy sum in the mid-1950s. However, Sam’s charm eventually vanquished Mary’s sure thing, and on August 20, 1960, she slipped Sam a five-dollar bill at the altar. Sam and Mary would share an amazing record of community service, mutually supporting each other’s activities, as they provided leadership to different but complimentary organizations. In 2005 they were the only married couple listed in Honolulu Magazine’s issue featuring the one hundred most noteworthy citizens of the past century.

My favorite example of Sam’s enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life occurred at a roadside, straight-from-the-cow ice cream stand in rural Connecticut. Sam ordered a concoction with the ominous name of “Road Kill” which proved to be a supercharged version of rocky road and mint chocolate chip ice cream, festooned with M&Ms and garnished with the purest, freshest whipped cream. On a beautiful, late spring afternoon, the same revelatory smile of enlightenment–the type that others meditate decades to achieve–crossed his face.

As I was getting to know Sam, I became aware that the mere mention of his name elicited smiles and put people at ease. Sam inspired admiration but most impressively to me he inspired genuine affection. People responded to his good nature, to his good works, and to his good-hearted, abiding love for Hawaiʻi. I’ve never known anyone who loved Hawai’i more or who had a greater appreciation for its cultural diversity and natural beauty. Hawaiʻi sustained Sam, and he sustained it right back.

I am certain that speaking briefly about the Mānoa Heritage Center is one aspect of telling it like it is of which Sam would approve. Sam would not want to let a crowd this large escape without a short serving of encouragement to support Hawaiʻi’s environment and culture. In most Hawaiian songs are the words, “Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana”– let the story be told through the song. A significant story of the song of Sam’s life is the Mānoa Heritage Center–the historic home Kūaliʻi, built by Sam’s grandparents, and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau, the only restored, intact heiau in Mānoa and the greater ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī. The story of Sam and Maryʻs vision will be evident here — their passion for conserving the natural history and cultural heritage of the islands, their appreciation and support of the arts, and their dedication to community service.

The Mānoa Heritage Center is a place where the uniqueness of Hawaiʻi’s environment and culture come alive. Years ago, because I was never adequately inoculated against Sam’s powers of persuasion, I found myself disconcertingly volunteering as a docent. However, I quickly came to see the difference that Mānoa Heritage Center tours were making in clarifying and changing people’s impressions of Hawaiʻi. To be a docent here is to be trained and equipped to educate and inspire people to greater interest and involvement in protecting and nurturing the glorious environment and culture of Hawaiʻi.

And so, hail and farewell, Sam! You immeasurably enriched our lives. Thank you for your foresight, generosity, and love of Hawaiʻi–the song of your life will continue to be sung by the many you have inspired. Now I can hear Sam’s voice saying gently but with authority, “OK, David, are you pau? Thank you. Next up!”

Central Union Church

16 January 2016.