Fay Gilkey Calkins Ala-ilima

Date(s) of birth and/or death approximate

Date of Birth

September 24th, 1921

Date of Death

August 1st, 2011

Memorial Meeting

Honolulu Friends Meeting


Born September 24, 1921, in Auburn, New York, of a family with strong Puritan, Quaker, and Methodist traditions, Fay was the eldest of Gladys Fay Gilkey and James Birdsall Calkins’s three daughters. Her life was one of adventure, service, and accomplishment. She passed away peacefully at her home on Pia Street in Honolulu, Hawaii, at 11:00 am on Sunday, August 1, 2010, at the age of eighty-eight.

Fay received a BA degree from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1943, an MA from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1945, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 1951. Following her graduation from Haverford, she worked in Austria with an UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) team relocating survivors of Nazi concentration camps and teaching them new skills. In 1947, she was an organizer for the Textile Workers Union of America, garnering experience and knowledge that led to her doctoral dissertation and first book, The CIO and the Democratic Party (1952, University of Chicago Press).

In her second book, My Samoan Chief (1962, Doubleday), she tells of meeting her future husband in the Library of Congress while working on her dissertation, and of their courtship and marriage in 1952. He, Vaiao Ala’ilima, was an exchange student in public administration at American University, and they had been assigned desks near each other in the Library. “Vaiao convinced his American wife that together they could make a significant contribution to Samoa’s development. The decision was an easy one for Fay. Vaioa’s good looks, a promise for adventure, and new areas for cross-cultural research were more than sufficient incentives to leave the developed world for a developing one” (this and later quotations are from the biography prepared by her family for her memorial service at Wesley Methodist Church in Honolulu 8/7/2010).

While living in Samoa a total of five daughters and two sons were born to them. (In addition, Fay is survived by 22 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.) By 1955, they had cleared and planted Lafulemu, a major banana-producing plantation. When Samoa gained independence in 1962, Vaiao served as the country’s first Public Service Commissioner, while Fay taught at Pesega College and later at Samoa College, the national high school. She was also instrumental in the coming of the US Peace Corps to Samoa; her book (My Samoan Chief) was required reading for the volunteers.

In 1964 they were able to establish a second home in Niu Valley on O’ahu when they were both given appointments at the East-West Center that supported their own research and writing on Samoan topics, while also enabling them to further their children’s education in Hawai’i institutions. This home continued to be their base in Hawai’i even after their return to Samoa twelve years later, and continues to be lived in today by their youngest daughter, Cecelia (an MD graduate of the UH medical school), and her family. Fay began working on her third book, Aggie Grey: A Samoan Saga (1988, Mutual Publishing), and was education coordinator for the Model Cities Program in 1965. She was social science instructor at Kamehameha Schools (1965-68), and held successive faculty positions at Hawaii Loa College and Leeward Community College, the latter from 1970 to her retirement in 1984. In 1967 she was granted a Fulbright Fellowship to study education in Southeast Asia. The Hamilton Library’s Pacific Collection at UH currently serves as repository for Vaiao’s and Fay’s numerous published and unpublished works, and their collected source materials as well.

“Fay and Vaiao returned to Samoa in 1986 to an active political life together. For nearly a decade, Fay served as Vaiao’s personal secretary following her husband’s appointment as a cabinet minister for several portfolios including Minister of Justice, Labor, Public Service, and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs. Fay retired as Research Fellow from the Institute of Samoan Studies, National University of Samoa in 2007 where she was working on her final book, Samoa’s Changing Chiefdom [and] she and Vaiao returned to Hawai’i for health reasons.” A sizeable group of family and friends were guests of the family at the historic Willows restaurant in Honolulu on September 23, 2006, the eve of Fay’s 85th birthday, to celebrate that occasion.

Fay’s relation to Honolulu Friends Meeting began with her visit one evening in the early 1970s when Douglas Steere was speaking. He had been one of her professors at Haverford College, and the two greeted each other warmly after more than two decades had passed. (It is probably not coincidental that—as we read in the family biography on the web—“In recognition of her accomplishments, Fay was bestowed the Haverford College Award in October 1973 as a person ‘whose contributions so clearly demonstrate that the educated individual of strong social conscience can indeed spur the progress of humanity’.”) Fay continued to attend Meetings for Worship when she was in Hawai’i, and in 2004 applied for membership. Minutes of the February Meeting for Business that year include a positive recommendation from the committee that met with her, noting that “some who had known her over the years assumed she was already a Quaker.” The March minutes report positive action by the Meeting and the appointment of a welcoming committee. It should be mentioned that Fay’s eldest daughter, Kilali (Gladys), was a staff person in the AFSC-Hawaii office 1995-97, working toward a nuclear-free Pacific as the Pacific Program Coordinator for AFSC.

Fay found ways to balance the many roles she filled—not only those of wife and mother, but also those of scholar and responsible member of both the American and Samoan communities that she was a part of. Her usual mode of travel to Meetings for Worship was with the Benders from East Honolulu. But occasionally she would let them know in advance of Sundays when she would be worshipping with her extended Samoan family instead. Her memorial service, held at Wesley United Methodist Church in Kahala, reflected the close ties felt by the wider community who had known and loved her, including not only Samoan and other members of that congregation, but those who had traveled from Samoa for the occasion, one of her sisters from the US Mainland, and a lay leader from the Roman Catholic Church who spoke of their work together on community endeavors in Honolulu.

“Fay will be remembered by her family [and by others who knew her] for her devotion to her husband, her love for the outdoors and travel, her storytelling and humor, [and] her ability to provide for so many, particularly her children and grandchildren.” She is remembered, too, for her love of music and hymn singing, responded to in her memorial service by an initial Gathering in Song with a selection of Samoan hymns, and a program that included other of her favorites. All told, more than thirty hymns were sung that day in her memory.