HONOLULU (KHON2) — Former Hawaii County Mayor William “Billy” Punapaiaʻala Kenoi died on Tuesday, Jan. 26, following a years-long battle with cancer. He was 52 years old.

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Kenoi served as the mayor from 2008 until 2016. He was an attorney and served as an aide for Harry Kim during his first stint as mayor. Kenoi was considered a rising star in politics at the time but was accused of misusing a county-issued credit card for personal purchases toward the end of his second term as mayor.

He was put on trial for theft and tampering with government records. A jury found him not guilty of all charges.

Courtesy: Kenoi Ohana

Kenoi announced he was battling a rare form of cancer in 2018. He said, he was diagnosed in 2015 and it accelerated two years later.

Kenoi spoke at the inauguration of incoming mayor Mitch Roth in December, 2020, in one of his last public appearances.

“Perfect is you know not attainable, but if you chase it, we can catch excellence, and when we do that, when we wake up everyday, striving to do our best, putting our best foot forward, everyone in the community is a beneficiary,” said Kenoi.

Mayor Roth released a statement saying, “Billy Kenoi was the embodiment of a true Big Island boy and a pillar of our community. His time as mayor and the accomplishments made under his direction were just a small glimpse of the man he was and the aloha he had for this community.”

Kenoi was known for giving inspirational speeches throughout his career, and his humor. That day was no different.

“We will get through it because the amount of respect, aloha, and cooperation among all of our leaders. And we also will cause our parents, grandparents, and kupuna have showed us that tough times no last but tough people do. They told me I only get five to seven minutes, and I know I’m there already. But I thought this might be the last time I ever talk so I’m shooting for about 15, 20, okay nah nah nah. I’m really not. I’m not! I’m just kidding, just kidding,” he said.

Several local officials publicly expressed their condolences to the late husband, father, uncle, brother and friend.

Hawaii Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi issued the following statement on the passing of the former Big Island mayor.

I was saddened to learn about the passing of former Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Billy Kenoi. He was a dedicated public servant who deeply cared about the people of Hawaiʻi. Even in the midst of his own health challenges, Billy continued to inspire those around him through with his warm sense of humor and his gift of oratory.  My heartfelt aloha goes out to his wife – Takako, his children – Liam, Justin and Mahina and the rest of the Kenoi ʻohana.

Ronald D. Kouchi, Hawaii Senate President

U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele also shared his condolences in an issued statement:

Courtesy: Rep. Kai Kahele

It is with deep sadness that I grieve with the people of Hawaiʻi over the passing of my dear friend and mentor, Billy Kenoi. Throughout his life, and especially as a leader of the people, Billy always had the attitude that anything is possible. In what would become a viral commencement address to Hawaiʻi Pacific University graduates, Billy said, ʻthere is no such thing as no can, always can! He knew how to make anyone feel special, through his inspiring words he was able to touch the hearts of others, and in doing so, often created positive change in the community where needed. With Billy, he would be the last to accept recognition, yet the first to give it to someone else. Billy showed us, by example, the importance of investing in our communities. His imprint and contributions are seen throughout the County of Hawaiʻi and will be felt for generations. Maria and I extend our deepest sympathies to Billy’s wife Takako, his daughter Mahina, and his sons Justin and Liam. Billy leaves an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of the people of Hawai‘i, especially those lives he generously touched on Hawaiʻi Island. He will be greatly missed.

Rep. Kai Kahele

Gov. David Ige announced he will order flags to fly at half-staff on the day of Kenoi’s memorial service. A date has not yet been set.