A Tribute to our Founders - Part 1
(Published in Legal Alert, Issue: Oct./Nov./Dec. 2008)
This year (2008) marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of our firm by Frank Damon and Henry Shigekane. While Henry retired from the firm in 1978, Frank continued to serve clients in the area of wills, trusts and estate planning for many more years.
This first article is dedicated to Frank Damon for his vision, professional excellence, and commitment to service. For those who know Frank, they will not be surprised at learning about his family background and how it influenced him so. For those who don’t, then read and learn about a very special human being.
The Damon Heritage
The many influences of the Damon family on Hawaii began as far back as 1842 when The American Seamen’s Friend Society sent Frank’s great grandfather Rev. Samuel Chenery Damon to Honolulu to take charge of the Oahu Bethel Church – the first church organization for foreign seamen. And with the same warm, caring charm and spirit that has continued through each succeeding generation, the Damon family has fostered Christian values, community service, education and interracial harmony.
Beginning with Rev. Samuel Damon, those influences are seen in an unbroken Damon succession of four generations of Punahou School Trustees; creation of the “The Friend” publication; and the founding of what are now known as the First Chinese Church of Christ, Mid-Pacific Institute, Kindergarten Children’s Aid Association, Chinese Palolo Home, East-West Center and the Richardson School of Law.
Cyril Francis Damon, Jr. was born in Honolulu in 1926. Growing up as “Frank” just as his grandfather was called before him, he recalls spending a lot of time with his grandmother, Mary Happer Damon, at her Moanalua house, which resembled a house in China. Mary often sang lullabies in Chinese to the Damon grandchildren. She was the daughter of a well-known American medical missionary in China who grew up in the Canton (now Guangzhou) area of China. Both Frank’s grandfather and grandmother spoke Cantonese fluently.
Frank’s grandmother spent a lot of time with Asians who joined their family in celebrations in the Moanalua area. While the Damon family was Caucasian and in the upper economic class, it didn’t phase any of them that they were socially interracially mixed and spending time together.
Having heard about his grandfather’s life mottos, Frank eventually made them a part of his own. “Tackle the Dread,” inspired him to do his best and make things better for everyone. And the second motto was: “Within the Four Seas, all Men are Brothers.” These mottos would continue to drive Frank’s life, the formation of his law partnership with Henry Shigekane, and their practice of law in Honolulu.
Frank left Hawaii in August 1941 to attend a New England prep school, where he played football. He missed home, his family and friends. And he missed the ethnic mix of Hawaii.
After three lonely years on the Mainland, he was finally able to return to Hawaii. He could not return home sooner because of war time restrictions. He received a call from Matson about a ship that was leaving the next day and enthusiastically accepted. The trip home was filled with great experiences and memories as he shared a small cabin with eight other men including Honolulu businessmen James E. Dole and Charlie Pietsch.
Frank was overjoyed to be home—being away made him realize what special places Hawaii and Punahou School were, and how the relationships that were cultivated were close to his heart.
One fond memory was going to Honolulu harbor. At that time, the passenger ship was the main mode of transportation off the island. Frank and his father often walked toward the ocean on Maunakea Street, which was lined with Hawaiian women who sold leis. The women would sell to people who were going to welcome guests or bid farewell. His father would always buy multiple leis from the lei sellers and then would give them away. The boat harbor was a memorable sight, full of streamers and leis. The Royal Hawaiian Band made for a dramatic and tearful atmosphere. Local boys dove for coins tossed into the harbor by passengers on the Lurline and Matsonia.
Frank Meets Henry
When Frank arrived home the war was still on. So, in 1944 he joined the Navy where he served for two years. After his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he continued his education at Yale University. A popular hangout was the college post office where many would go to collect and send out their mail. There was an electric atmosphere at the Yale post office, especially on Fridays and Mondays.
One day while Frank was at the post office, he noticed an Asian person. Frank asked “Are you from Hawaii?” Henry Shigekane responded “yes,” and the two talked about home. Because Frank was a year ahead of Henry, he took time to show him around the school and occasionally dropped in to check on Henry in his dorm.
On one occasion, Frank asked Henry if he was interested in going skiing with him and his brother, Gordon, at his cousin’s lodge in Vermont. Henry was excited because he had never seen snow. They drove to Vermont and Henry went skiing for the first time. It was a memorable experience for both and further established their lifetime friendship.
From Yale, Frank moved westward to the University of Colorado Law School. After graduating, he returned home and passed the Hawai‘i bar exam in 1954. His first job was with the large Honolulu law firm of Smith, Wild, Beebe & Cades. Frank practiced law there for five years. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, one of its new U.S. Senators Hiram L. Fong asked Frank to serve as his administrative assistant in Washington, D.C.
The opportunity was a difficult choice for Frank. He had recently married and his wife was pregnant with their first child. But, they concluded this was an opportunity of a lifetime, “So, off we went to Washington. We had two children there.” Senator Fong got Frank admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Working with Senator Fong was an exciting time for Frank, and he became more engaged in politics and the changing of people’s attitudes of interracial relationships. Soon after arriving in Washington D.C., Senator Fong gave his first speech in the Senate chambers on immigration. Being an administrative assistant, Frank was able to stand in the back of the Senate chambers and observe the activities of the meeting — a practice not allowed today. He remembers the room where the Democrats sat on the left side, and the Republicans on the right side, with an aisle between the two parties.
Senator Fong was a Republican. He spoke about immigration with a strength and passion that inspired others. He was not just a Chinese person from Hawaii, but the first Asian Senator. Other Senators were so moved that some Democrats left from their seats, crossed the aisle and sat on the Republican side. Eventually half a dozen more Democrats joined their fellow Senators on the Republican side. Old timers told Frank they had never seen this happen before. Frank remembers that moment as it represented the growing acceptance in the U.S. Mainland of Asians and other people of different backgrounds.
Senator Fong, together with his friend, Senator Oren E. Long, a Democrat and former Governor of Hawaii, helped to create the East-West Center which represented the world and Asia building relationships to work together. Frank worked closely with Bob Kamins, a University of Hawaii professor and administrative assistant to Senator Long. The two would go to the different senatorial offices to get support for the East-West Center. A strong bill was created with the support of both Republicans and Democrats.
Frank had planned to work just a few years with Senator Fong. When he returned home, he was asked by Governor William F. Quinn to serve in his cabinet as Director of Labor and Industrial Relations. Frank asked Governor Quinn why he was selected. “Bill, what good does this do to you politically? I’m a haole….” “And Gov. Quinn responded, ‘Well we’ve worked with you and with Hiram for years and we know what you can do and you kept in touch with our office the whole time. So I know I can trust you.’ And so I accepted.”
On the advice of the Governor, he called on labor leaders in Hawaii. He went to the offices of Jack Hall (ILWU) and Art Rutledge (AFL)— two of the most powerful labor leaders in Hawaii. No labor director up to that time had ever come to see them in that capacity, and this gave Frank a special connection with both unions. Frank, as a Republican, served as the Director of Labor and Industrial Relations for the State of Hawaii for about one year until the election of Democrat John Burns.
Taking the time to deliberate over what he wanted to do next, Frank talked with old friends and prominent lawyers Dudley Pratt and Russell Cades. Despite his deep respect for both men, he turned down offers to join their respective firms. With his experience in Washington D.C. and the changing times of bringing races and cultures together, Frank wanted to try something different. He did not want to remain a part of the establishment. He wanted to be independent and to strike out on his own.
Both Frank and Henry were at a time in their lives when they weren’t sure what they were going to do. At that time, major law firms in Hawaii had few, if any, Asian or woman lawyers and none as partners. Frank had an idea and contacted Henry, “Why don’t we start a law firm together?”