Before Loretta Fuddy stepped onto her fateful flight from Kalaupapa on Wednesday afternoon, she met with patients and Department of Health workers and officials at the settlement that was once a leprosy colony.
"She was very open to the workers, which was awesome," said Health Department worker and office assistant Rafael Torres on Thursday. "She really heard everybody's input . . . and it's hard because you could see she was listening and had solutions in her head."
At the conclusion of the visit, her third visit to Kalaupapa this year, Fuddy, 65, stepped aboard the Cessna Grand Caravan for the flight back to Oahu.
“All you could ask for in a boss”
She would not make it home.
The state Department of Health director died Wednesday afternoon when the Makani Kai Air flight with her aboard crashed in the ocean northwest of Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula. Of the nine people aboard, she was the only fatality.
"It was mentioned (Wednesday) that she tries to visit with every department annually, and this visit was scheduled months ago," said Torres. "Usually, she comes in the summer, but it was pushed back and this was finally a time that she could do it."
She listened to the concerns of the patients and workers for several hours alongside state Deputy Director Keith Yamamoto. The settlement run by the Health Department is still home to a few former Hansen's disease patients.
Some of the issues that came up included budgets, jobs, equipment and even abandoned vehicles that needed to be shipped away from the area on barges. She listened, which had become a trademark.
Torres was "really grateful" for someone in her position to hear the opinions and suggestions coming from the small settlement.
"I went to her and talked with her a little bit about some of my personal concerns with what was going on over here, and she was open to that," said Torres, who had known Fuddy for only a couple of years. "That's all you could ask for in a boss."
Others who knew her on Maui and across the state, who were mourning her loss, pointed to other strong character traits.
State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui, has served in the Legislature for 20 years and remembered Fuddy as a "problem-solver" with a "big heart."
"I've known Loretta forever and just had the greatest admiration for her," said Baker, currently vice chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. "I just can't believe she's gone. She was just a great advocate for kids and adults with developmental disabilities, mental health issues. . . . She tried really hard to make government work for those frail and fragile individuals.
"It's a huge loss for the department and for all of us."
Fuddy, affectionately known as "Deliana," grew up in Kaimuki, Oahu, and later graduated from Sacred Hearts, the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Public Health. She had more than 30 years of experience in health and human services and was appointed to her position as director in 2011 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
"When we confirmed her three years ago, there was nobody that came to say anything negative about Deliana," Baker said.
Aside from serving as Health Department director, Fuddy was chairwoman of the Hawai'i Public Health Association, president of the Association of State and Territorial Public Health Social Workers, treasurer and secretary of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, and served on the Policy Committee of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers.
Baker worked closely with Fuddy throughout her career on issues such as dental hygiene, obesity and premature baby birth.
"She always wanted to make sure we had a good look at population health (or) any group having difficulties accessing care," she said.
Other Maui County state representatives and senators shared their condolences Thursday.
Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Upcountry, Molokai and Lanai, said Fuddy "demonstrated an unwavering support for Hawaii" and "will be dearly missed."
House Speaker Joe Souki, who represents Wailuku, said Fuddy "led with grace during difficult times" and was a "champion for mothers, newborns and early childhood care."
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui also sent thoughts and prayers to Fuddy's family and friends and called her a "fiercely committed individual, who served tirelessly as a champion for the people of Hawaii."
"We are deeply saddened by her passing, and we will feel a void in our hearts and in this administration," he said.
Torres said Fuddy's death was first announced at Kalaupapa Airport, where he and some of the survivors were assembled. While the survivors were being evaluated and tended to by nurses, Kalaupapa Health Department Administrator Mark Miller broke the news.
"He gathered all of us up and wanted to make an announcement and let us know what happened . . . but it was obvious who didn't make it because we all knew Fuddy was on the plane," Torres said, adding that she wasn't at the airport with other survivors.
He learned of the plane crash from a friend in Denver.
"A minute later my co-worker came in and said a plane went down and that's when I got my shoes on and headed out the door," he said. "The administrator said rally whatever nurses we could and jumped on a truck and looked for nurses not on scene and headed out to the airport."
Torres said several nurses, health and National Park workers transported blankets, pillows, food and water to the airport.
"Everyone looked shocked and shaken up," he said. "Everybody was pretty quiet."
He didn't talk much about the crash with survivors. He added that there would have been a lot fewer health volunteers if the crash had occurred on the weekend.
"If it was on a weekend, nobody would be down here," he said. "Nobody would've known."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.