With a Saturday full of preparing the apartment for Christmas, this blogger had almost forgotten that a certain annual event was happening further east of McCully.
Then I saw a Facebook post from friends, saying they were on their way to this unique holiday event – the Hawaii Kai Holiday Boat Parade.
I then remembered that, in the many losses of friends in 2023, the annual tradition of going out to Marian and Jim Grey’s house in Hawaii Kai to see the parade would be no more.
And like the departure of former State Senator Sam Slom, the departure of Marian first, and then Jim in October 2023, the memories of the Greys and their effect on the conservative political world in Hawaii were only superseded by the fact that they were good friends of me, some of my political friends, then my daughter Rachel, and finally my wife. Leigh.
All because of a boat parade, but more.
I FIRST MET MARIAN when I was a Legislative Aide working for Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou, starting around 2005 or so. It was an interaction that was all business, at least to me anyway. Being a legislative aide introduced me to several different people throughout the 4 years and a couple of months that I had the opportunity to work at Honolulu Hale. Marian was considered a constituent, and someone whom we would take meetings with.
I found her first to be both disarming with a personality that didn’t sting, but smart as a tack on issues. Of course, the issues we talked about were focused on the City – the budget, city services, etc. A little later I would come to find out that she was an active member of the Hawaii Republican Party, something which at the time had its quirks, but a lot less than it is now.
Eventually, I would get invitations to their house on the waterfront in Hawaii Kai. At first, it was for fundraisers for a variety of Republican candidates for office. Starting from the first event, I would meet Marian’s husband, Jim, who typically was working the grill outside on the patio.
In late 2008, when Councilmember Djou dismissed his whole legislative staff – both legislative aides and the Chief of Staff – I thought that was the end of the discussions with Marian. I thought that even more so when, in 2011, I formally announced I was leaving the Republican Party due to a dissonance between the party’s political philosophy, and mine.
But Marian kept in touch, and more so, invited me to other events from time to time. For instance, when new leadership was installed at the Hawaii Republican Party in 2998, she invited the new chair to her house and invited me. At the time, I had already started walking away from the party thinking and feeling like an exile more than a respected peer. But Marian invited me over and then asked me to help her in the kitchen, probably realizing that I would be more welcome, and helpful there.
It was there that I would learn how to bake salmon.
MARIAN’S REPUBLICAN DEDICATION was something that I admired about her. When I felt that the party had stopped “speaking to me” and I felt that I was an outsider, especially after being dismissed by Djou, Marian stuck around, always being involved.
After my time at the City Council, I attended Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meetings periodically where Marian held a position. She was also appointed to licensing boards and remained active in party affairs. Despite the party shifting right, she supported common-sense thinking on issues, indicating not everyone in the Hawaii Republican Party had moved too far away from the center of political thought.
Her husband Jim would be in lockstep with her on political thoughts with a feeling that he was easy to talk to, and maybe at times would be amiable to different points of view, to a certain extent.
But Marian would continue to express her opinions and positions in a more common-sense way than other party apparatchiks. Never scripted, when she and I would have a political discussion, it wouldn’t be a discussion in which either of us felt that we needed to defend our philosophical hill at all costs.
It was a respectful exchange, despite our differing opinions. What impressed me most about Marian was her ability to stay involved with a political party that was moving further right and facing constant attacks from the opposition. She faced these challenges head-on, like a swimmer diving under a wave, and emerged on the other side, continuing to move forward.
And floating, with the boats.
SHE INVITED AN INTERESTING MIX of people to every year’s holiday boat parade. Of course, there were standards like Representative Gene Ward, former Senator Sam Slom, and current or past political candidates. There were staff members of politicians’ offices like Julia Allen, and occasionally community leaders looking for support, like Natalie Iwasa.
But others who were not part of the Republican political spectrum would also be invited. One of the most notable to me was the lawyer, Richard Turbin. When I saw him at one party arriving with wine, I had to do a double take. Mr. Turbin was not known, to me or many others as a person who would attend Republican events.
But he was there, and we both greeted each other, surprised that the other was there.
As the years went on, more like the first half of the 2010s, individuals like my daughter would come with me to these parties. My Rachel, who is not a Republican and leans more to the left, was welcomed warmly with a very nice lei. Years later, Marian would ask me how she was doing as she graduated from high school, and then college.
In the last couple of years of the party, I would be reintroduced to a person who was my adviser at the University of Hawaii and a professor whom I admired – Kate Zhou. I knew Prof. Zhou was a Republican, but it was nice to see that Marian and she had connected, with Prof. Zhou bringing a student with her to the party, introducing them to a slice of political Americana.
That was one of the nicest reunions when I saw Prof. Zhou again after over 20 years. All thanks to Marian.
At the party, Marian incorporated her American values, with red, white, and blue tablecloths and classic American dishes. Although Marian and Jim had stopped drinking wine, I still brought a bottle to honor past times when we drank together.
The wine would be drunk by other guests, nonetheless.
BUT OF COURSE, IT WAS ABOUT THE PARADE, and we as guests would always go down to the waterfront to watch the boats go by. The owners of the boats, some being very elaborate in their decorations, would come close to where the guests were and wave and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. And the guests would wave back.
Marian and Jim would come down to the waterfront too, and watch the boats go by. Occasionally we would discuss politics, mostly catching up on where we were in that life. But the conversation would turn right back to the boats. When the parade was done, we would all proceed back to the house where conversations would continue, in seats that opened with guests departing after the parade.
During the last party in 2022, a new guest arrived in the form of Steve, the son of Marian and Jim. While I didn’t get the opportunity to speak with him at length during the event. Nevertheless, I was pleased to finally meet him. I had the sense that he was there to assist his parents, particularly Marian, who seemed to be having difficulty getting around. Having had my parents live well into their later years, I didn’t worry too much about Marian’s slower pace. I knew that as long as their spirits were still intact, they would continue to enjoy life.
It would turn out that it would be the last party I would see either of them at.
WHEN I RECEIVED THE NEWS THAT Marian had passed away in February 2023, I needed a few moments to process it. It felt like the world had opened and taken away someone good, leaving a little hole in my heart. Her passing symbolized a loss that I felt, and still feel months later, even with time.
As I was receiving updates on the Greys, I learned that Jim had passed away in October, around six months after Marian. Their son, Steve, shared this news on Marian’s Facebook wall. It was a moment of sadness for me as Jim had given me the privilege of running the grill at some of their parties. I considered it a great honor to be trusted with someone else’s grill.
I would miss more than just the party invitations and social interactions. I would also miss the feeling that a true ‘adult in the room’ had been lost from the Hawaii political world. Marian and to some extent, Jim, exemplified a certain type of political savvy and style that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s highly partisan political landscape.
Using their ears to hear, eyes to read documents and rooms, and being measured in their comments from their mouth, it’s a style of political engagement that was refreshing to see practiced, with the hope that the younger generation that attended the parties would at least see that style, and maybe ask more about it.
Now that they have left, the responsibility of carrying out their task will rest on those who were acquainted with them, who believe that they possess the ability to talk about them, and maybe even demonstrate their approach to the new and upcoming political figures in this state.
And to the holiday boat parade, of which I am honored to have had the chance to be invited to see it from their home.