Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kalaupapa leader Richard Marks dies

Tour operator was educator, advocate recognized by pope.
Maui News: Dec. 12th. - Kalaupapa resident and advocate Richard Marks, who helped end the state's quarantine of leprosy patients and make the settlement a National Historic Park, died Tuesday at Kalaupapa Hospital. He was 79.

Marks was inspired by Father Damien to become an advocate for Kalaupapa, said his wife, Gloria. His activism led him to travel the world, gain a private audience with Pope John Paul II, and meet Mother Teresa. At home he operated Damien Tours, a bus tour of the settlement he started to help educate visitors about the history of Father Damien and Kalaupapa. "I'd like people to remember the person he was," Gloria Marks said Thursday. "He's not doing it for himself. He's doing it for the settlement." Services are pending in Honolulu. Mililani Memorial Park and Mortuary is handling the arrangements. Gloria Marks said another service would be held at St. Francis Church, followed by burial in a family plot.

Molokai rancher and tour operator Buzzy Sproat said Richard Marks loved to travel the world, from Rome to Las Vegas, and study about the history of the settlement and Father Damien. "He really got into it," he said. On his Damien Tours, Marks was both educator and entertainer, Sproat said. "He talked about what Father Damien did for the people, but he liked to joke about things too," he said. Gloria Marks, 70, said she promised her husband she'd continue the tour as long as she was able. "I'll go another eight years if I can," she said.

While Richard Marks became a passionate protector of Kalaupapa later in life, he was angry and restless when he was first sent to the isolated Molokai peninsula after being diagnosed with leprosy, now called Hansen's disease, Gloria Marks said. "He used to run away. He'd go up the hill. How he got caught he'd call the taxi," she laughed. Born in Puunene on Maui, he was in the Merchant Marine Service when he was diagnosed at age 21. He was already familiar with exile in Kalaupapa, having had other members of his family, including a grandmother, shipped to the north Molokai peninsula. Marks was once locked up in a hospital for his attempts to escape, and even went on a hunger strike in protest, Gloria said. Later on, he became "mellow" and was at peace with his experience, she said. He became an outspoken advocate for the residents of the settlement, serving as sheriff for the community and encouraging visitors taking his Damien Tours to contribute to the community's needs.

Gloria Marks recalled that her husband boldly proclaimed, "I am a leper," in a controversial 1968 magazine article, and went on to talk about the injustice of continuing to isolate patients. The Department of Health threatened to sue him over the interview, she said, but a year later the Legislature repealed the state's 104-year-old quarantine policy. "He was the one who opened up the door," she said. In 1996, he was recognized by the Damien-Dutton Society for Leprosy Aid for his efforts to educate people about the disease and about the history of Kalaupapa. "They have all the worst ideas about leprosy being such a contagious disease, which is plain nonsense," he said in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press. "Over 1,100 people have come here to work since Father Damien and Father Damien was the only one who got the disease."

Gloria Marks said her husband was most proud of his efforts to have Kalaupapa established as a National Historic Park. He worked with the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who introduced the legislation that brought the settlement under the management of the National Park Service in 1980. Gloria Marks said Richard wanted the enclave protected for the future, but didn't want to wait for the state government to do something about it. "It's to preserve it, for when we're gone," she said. Richard Marks was also an advocate for the sainthood of Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, who both lived among the patients at Kalaupapa in the 1800s to provide spiritual and physical comfort. Richard Marks was elated over the anticipated canonization of Father Damien, and was looking forward to traveling to Rome for the occasion in early 2009. He'd even gotten his passport renewed for the trip, his wife said. But while Marks may have dreamed big for his little village, not all his ideas came to pass. Gloria Marks said her husband always wanted to see a cable car link the cliff-locked community with the outside world, but he was told the idea wouldn't work because of the salty air.
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