Categorized | Education

Outstanding alumni bring high honor to UH


The University of Hawaii Alumni Association (UHAA) has named its 2011 Distinguished Alumni Awards honorees. Established in 1987, the award recognizes outstanding alumni who have used their UH education to excel professionally, provide inspirational leadership to others, and provide service for the benefit of the community.

A dinner will be held to honor this year’s recipients Thursday, May 12, at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. To reserve seats for the event, visit

University of Hawaii Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award Honorees

* L. Tammy Duckworth (B.A. ’89 UH Manoa, M.A. The George Washington University) has served as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs since 2009.

A major in the Illinois Army National Guard and an Iraq War veteran, Duckworth lost both legs and partial use of one arm in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting. She received the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Combat Action Badge for her service.

Since her recovery at Walter Reed, Duckworth declined her Army medical retirement and continues to serve in the National Guard. She has dedicated her life to public service, advocating for disability rights and veterans. Duckworth was director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs from 2006–2008. She has testified on veterans’ issues several times before Congress, and she addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention about veterans’ rights.

Before her deployment to Iraq, she was a manager for Rotary International. In 2006, Duckworth ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and lost by a narrow margin.

She has received many honors, including the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award (2007), Disabled American Veterans Disabled Veteran of the Year award (2008), American Veterans (AMVETS) Silver Helmet award (2009) and The George Washington University’s Colin Powell Public Service Award (2009).

She speaks fluent Thai and Indonesian, and is a published author on the health risks of environmental radon and lung cancer. In 2008 and 2009, Duckworth completed the Chicago Marathon. She has resumed flying as a civilian pilot.

* Gary Galiher (J.D. ’77, M.Ed. ’71, UH Manoa, B.A. ’68 University of California at Los Angeles) is senior partner and Diane Ono (J.D. ’91, B.A. ’73 UH Manoa, A.S. ’82 Kapiolani CC) is managing partner with the firm Galiher DeRobertis Ono in Honolulu.

Both remain actively engaged in supporting the UH Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law because they feel so fortunate for all they have been able to accomplish with their education. They established The Galiher Ono Distinguished Public Lecture Series, funded numerous scholarships for law students, and generously support the Law School, Institute for Astronomy and Cancer Center.

They feel a deep commitment to the community and believe wholeheartedly in the university’s role in both educating the people of Hawaii and conducting exceptional and exciting research. Galiher achieved national renown for his expertise in asbestos litigation.

Since his first case in 1982, he has won more than 50 jury verdicts and compensation for mesothelioma victims. Galiher and Ono work together on the asbestos cases with Ono as second chair in the trials. Galiher also represented the State of Hawaii in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry, resulting in a $1.38 billion settlement for the state in 1998.

In addition, he worked on the case against five major oil companies that yielded a $20 million settlement for Hawaii in 2002. Galiher is active in the American Association for Justice and in several local charities.

Ono is director and past president of Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation, president of Hawaii Attorneys for Justice, serves on the Mid-Pacific Institute Board of Trustees, and is vice president and secretary for the Friends of the UH Cancer Center board.

Richard and June Ha of Hamakua Springs Farm are surrounded by fresh lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, and cucumbers. (Photo courtesty of The Kohala Center)

* Richard Ha (B.B.A. ’73 University of Hawaii at Manoa) is founder and president of Hamakua Springs Country Farms, a 600-acre family farm on the Island of Hawaii that sustainably produces bananas and hydroponic vegetables.

A former U.S. Army captain and Vietnam War veteran, Ha started farming when he returned to the Big Island after graduating from UH Manoa in 1973. Since then, Ha has been founder and president of Ha Brothers Banana Farm, Koae Banana Company, Panaewa Distribution Company, Keaau Banana Company, Mauna Kea Banana Company, Big Island Container Sales and Hamakua Springs Country Farms.

Ha has served on numerous boards, including Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, Hamakua Soil and Water Conservation District, Hawaii Banana Industry Association, Keaholoa STEM Program, and Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii. He is director of The Kohala Center, represents the County of Hawaii on the State of Hawaii Board of Agriculture Executive Board, and co-chairs the Geothermal Working Group. He also has served on advisory boards for the UH Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and UH Hilo.

In 2008, Ha was inducted to the Shidler College of Business Hall of Honor, and was elected to the Social Science Association in 2009.

He is a frequent speaker at conferences addressing agriculture and sustainability. Ha is married with two children, and currently runs Hamakua Springs with his wife, mother, daughter and son-in-law.

* John T. Komeiji (B.Ed. ’75 University of Hawaii at Manoa, J.D. University of California Hastings College of the Law) is senior vice president and general counsel at Hawaiian Telcom. Previously, he was a senior partner with the law firm of Watanabe Ing & Komeiji.

His private practice focused primarily on the litigation of complex commercial, personal injury and professional liability matters. Komeiji is a member of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates, the International Society of Barristers and is a bencher and on the executive committee of the American Inns of Court, Aloha Chapter. He has been designated as a Super Lawyer and featured in the Honolulu Magazine Best Lawyers edition.

Komeiji is a past president of the Hawaii State Bar Association. He has also served on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Competence. Komeiji has served as a lawyer representative to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, United States District Court Conference and the State of Hawaii Judiciary Conference.

Komeiji was also an adjunct professor of law at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law, where he taught pretrial litigation. He has served on numerous for-profit and non-profit boards, including the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii Foundation.

* Hing Leung Sham, Ph.D. (Ph.D. ’80 University of Hawaii at Manoa, M.S. ’77 Iowa State University, B.S. ’74 University of Minnesota) is senior vice president of Chemical Sciences at Elan Biopharmaceuticals, where he oversees drug discovery efforts for Autoimmune, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative disease therapeutics.

From 2002–2006, Sham directed medicinal chemistry research efforts in metabolic diseases, including diabetes and obesity, at Abbott Laboratories. He was the Distinguished Research Fellow there until 2006. He also has drug discovery experience in cardiovascular, oncology and infectious diseases (1983-2002). Sham is the primary inventor of Kaletra, Abbott’s advanced-generation protease inhibitor for the treatment of HIV infection (more than 30 million prescriptions produced globally since launch), and a co-inventor of Norvir (ritonavir), Abbott’s first-generation protease inhibitor.

An expert in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, Sham is a named inventor on 75 issued U.S. patents and multiple pending U.S. patents, and he is author/co-author on more than 160 scientific publications. Sham was named National Inventor of the Year by the Intellectual Property Owners Association in 1997, and received the 2003 Heroes of Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society.

The UH Founders Alumni Association began the tradition of recognizing outstanding University of Hawaii alumni. The Founders continue honoring alumni who have made a significant impact throughout their lives with the UH Founders Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

This year’s recipient is Isabella Aiona Abbott, Ph.D.

* Abbott (B.A. ’41 UH Manoa, M.S. ’42 University of Michigan, Ph.D. ’50 University of California at Berkeley) was a UH Manoa ethnobotany professor emerita who was known worldwide as a gifted algae taxonomist.

She was the first person of Hawaiian ancestry to earn a Ph.D. in science and was the first woman on the biological sciences faculty at Stanford University, where she taught for 30 years. She was the preeminent marine botanist of the Pacific region for more than 50 years and was considered the foremost expert on central-Pacific algae.

More than 200 algae owe their discovery and scientific names to Abbott. Several species were named after her, along with an entire genus – Abbottella, which means “little Abbott.” A dedicated scholar and prolific writer, she published more than 170 research papers, books and technical reports, and gave generously of her time in service to numerous organizations in Hawaii.

Abbott received the 1997 National Academy of Sciences Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal for excellence in published research on algae. She was also recognized by the Botanical Society of America, was named a Living Treasure by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, and received the University of Hawaii Distinguished Alumni Award in 1994.

Until her death Oct. 28 at the age of 91, Abbott had still frequented her UH Manoa office and served on the Bishop Museum Board of Directors, the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advisory committee for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The UH Manoa Department of Botany has established a fund with the UH Foundation in her honor to further graduate research in Hawaiian ethnobotany and marine botany.

Any University of Hawaii alumnus who has either completed 50 percent of an educational program within the UH System of 10 campuses, or received a degree from a UH campus, is eligible to be nominated for the UH Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award.

The nomination process began in September 2010, and nominations were reviewed by a committee composed of members of the UHAA Board of Directors, past award recipients and members of the community-at-large. Proceeds from this event benefit UHAA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The University of Hawaii Alumni Association promotes and supports the University of Hawaii by connecting alumni and friends with the university and with each other, strengthening stakeholder relationships in the community, and inspiring pride among the University of Hawaii ohana.

For more information about the Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner or UHAA, contact the Alumni Relations office at (808) 956-2586 or 1 877-UH-ALUMS (1 877-842-5867), or visit

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