From Humble Beginnings to Washington Place

Karen Shishido
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Oftentimes I find myself wondering, Whatever happened to so-and-so? And What is that person doing now? For example, my longtime friend and mentor Lynne Kobashigawa Waihe‘e. Most know her as the former First Lady of the Aloha State, when her husband John Waihe‘e III was governor from 1986-1994. I hadn’t been in touch with Lynne for some time. Catching up with her recently was exhilarating, as she remains the same gracious, genuine lady I remember.

Lynne Kobashigawa Waihe‘e was instrumental in the creation of Read-to-Me International. (Photos courtesy of Lynne Waihe‘e)

Since Lynne’s dad, Toshio Kobashigawa, passed away at just 39 years of age, her mother, Matsue Ikehara Kobashigawa, became a single-parent and sole breadwinner for Lynne and her four siblings. Fortunately, Lynne’s parents had opened a restaurant, Farrington Inn, just prior to Toshio’s death, allowing Matsue to raise her family.

Like other Okinawan-owned restaurants or saimin stands, Matsue managed over time to engage her children in the business — waiting on tables, dishwashing, and, in the case of her older brother James, cooking. 

It was no easy task for Matsue to both run her restaurant and be a mom. At times, the kids were latchkey children, but it was in the 50s in Kalihi, when neighbors would allow other children to play in their yards or homes. Kalihi was then a safe place, where you could leave your houses unlocked.

Lynne graduated from Hawaiian Mission Academy, where she met her future husband, former Governor John Waihe‘e III. Together, they attended Andrews University, a private Seventh-day Adventist college, where John got his first taste of politics when he ran for and won as student assembly president. It was there that John learned about community service, where he ran a successful education program serving both middle-class and disadvantaged children and adults. While still living in Michigan, Lynne taught high school English for a year and gave birth to her son John David Waihe‘e IV.

Matsue Ikehara Kobashigawa and her five children.

But Hawai‘i was beckoning the Waihe‘es home, and in the summer of 1971, they moved back to the islands, where John worked for Model Cities — the law firm of Shim, Seigle, Tam and Naito — and graduated from the first University of Hawai‘i class of the William S. Richardson School of Law. The Waihe‘es gave birth to their daughter Jennifer Dawn Waihe‘e in 1971, and a few years later, Lynne taught at Kalihi Kai Elementary, followed by Hawaiian Mission Academy, where she taught English and English as a Second Language. As an educator, she was rewarded by “seeing her students succeed.”

John’s rapid rise in politics began with the 1978 Constitutional Convention (aka “Con Con”), followed by the House of Representatives (1980), Lieutenant Governor (1984), and finally, in 1986, Governor.

While John served as Governor of Hawai‘i, Lynne immersed herself in the community, supporting a number of boards and initiatives, including Adult Friends for Youth, the Children’s Discovery Center, Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, Aloha United Way, the March of Dimes, HUGS, Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i, the Hawaii Foodbank and the Governor’s Council for Literacy.

The Waihe‘e‘s at the 2018 Hawaii United Okinawa Association Legacy Awards. From left to right (back row): Jay and Jennifer Waihe‘e-Polk and John Waihe‘e IV. Front row: Former Governor John Waihe‘e III and First Lady Lynne Waihe‘e.

Lynne’s proudest moments include her husband’s election as Hawai‘i’s Governor in 1986, her son’s Investiture as Trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2000 and her daughter Jennifer’s passing the State Bar Exam in 2000.

Gov. Waihe‘e left office in 1994, and after his departure, Lynne was instrumental in the creation of Read-to-Me International, where she served as President and has continued her association for the past 25 years. RTMI is a nonprofit with a simple mission: “To share the love and joy of reading aloud. Its goal is that every child will be read to daily for 10 minutes.”

 Programs have included prison literacy: one where inmates write stories, which are printed, recorded and mailed home to their children; and a separate prison project in which participants record age-appropriate stories which are sent to their children. Other programs involve a parent-coaching program for schools and family-serving communities, and a national-quality conference with nationally recognized authors. The conference provides professional development opportunities for educators and preschool teachers.

“You could say I’ve lived a charmed life,” Lynne reflects. “I’ve had the privilege of living in the home of Hawai‘i’s last queen, Lili‘uokalani. I’ve met dignitaries and world leaders such as Princess Diana; Prince Charles; President George Bush, Jr. and his wife Barbara; President William Jefferson Clinton and his wife Hillary; President George W. Bush and his wife Laura; Emperor and Empress Hirohito of Japan, Chiyonofuji, and the Dalai Lama.

“I’ve met movers and shakers in our community. I’ve got to meet hometown heroes in our community. And what I’ve been privileged to learn is that there are many, many good, caring people in our state who make this world a better place.”

Now, in semi-retirement, Lynne has more well-deserved time to devote to her passions and hobbies — solving sudoku puzzles, studying chadō (the Way of Tea), traveling with family and high-school friends, collecting cookbooks and watching cooking and home-improvement shows.

Lynne admits that her lifetime goal is to author a children’s book, but questions whether she has the discipline to realize this dream. Despite this, her best advice to the future leaders of tomorrow is to “Live your passion!”

Yes, it’s been my pleasure to reconnect with my friend Lynne. While we didn’t get to eat at my desired place of meeting because of COVID-19, she promised the next visit would be on her, and I just can’t wait!

Karen Shishido is a Sansei born and raised in Nu‘uanu who has worked for the City and County of Honolulu for 36 years in appointed positions under the Fasi, Anderson and Harris administrations. She retired after working with Ann Kobayashi and serving as a fundraising specialist with Partners in Development Foundation.


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