Memories with Kelly

Employees share good memories with Kelly Leong during his time at UH Hilo

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge Photographs provided by Alyson Kakugawa-Leong and New Student Programs

Kelly on deck

Kelly Leong served in the UH Hilo Athletics Department for a total of 25 years before working in the Division of Student Affairs. On April 6, Leong passed away after suffering from a fall on campus. He was a willing helper and participant in improving the university, and put his heart into everything he did. The following quotes are from those who worked closely alongside him during his life.

Brennan Low

“In my experience with Kelly, he was a constant questioner. He would be okay with things as they were, but then he would always come back and revisit, so he wasn’t complacent. He was always interested to learn more. Kelly inherited a lot of web content from Student Affairs, not because that was his specialty, but because he was so good at working with people. Kelly had the soft skills that are necessary in life: things like consensus building, like follow-up emails, thank you’s, and asking for feedback. I think that made him more effective at teasing the information and best content out of people.”

Farrah Marie Gomes

“The one thing that I will say about Kelly’s contributions to the Division of Student Affairs is there is nobody who was more willing to help volunteer for any call, any request. Even if he had no idea of what needed to be done, no matter how big or how small, if an email went out asking for volunteers, I guarantee you, Kelly would be one of the first responses. In fact, I shared this with the division, the last request I sent out which was a week before his passing, and he was the first to respond. I was putting together a division committee to help us look at our emergency preparedness, and within 30 minutes of my initial email, he said he was willing. And that was Kelly, always there, always willing to help. Even when he wasn’t sure what help was needed, that was just his nature.”

“It’s important to note that Kelly would often take vacation at the end of the day, maybe an hour to go across the island sometimes to officiate basketball and volleyball games for the high school seasons, so he was very much connected to the community. He watched the members of our university’s children go through that process. He coached the UH Hilo dive team, and so we have that connection. His favorite color was orange, which the Hilo dive team laughs about, because their colors are blue and yellow, and so he would come with his orange, and you’d have this clashing of blue, yellow, and orange. But that was Kelly.”

Brennan Low

“He was a sharp dresser. I would say that Kelly was always upbeat. Have you ever met anybody who was like a Zen Buddhist, and no matter what happens whether they drive through a puddle or they get a flat tire, they’re still just chipper and cheery? Kelly was sometimes maddeningly cheery. He would call as many as 10 times in a day when he was working on a project, which would occasionally get annoying, but his persistence allowed him to get results that many don’t because they don’t try. Kelly would continue doing the work, even when he got resistance or if people didn’t feel the same. He’s going to be sorely missed. My phone doesn’t ring as much as it used to, because of Kelly. The first words out of his mouth were always, ‘how are you?’ or ‘how’s your day?’”

Farrah Marie Gomes

“He is going to be missed because his heart was always for the students, and that’s what he would tell me. He was here to help the students, and by default, him helping the students meant that he was helping every other student on this campus with whatever issue, initiative, or project we were putting out.”

Brennan Low

“What I will personally remember is that we had lots of talks about what things to plan. I take great joy in weed-whacking and lawn mowing, and he told me that for the health of my grass, I should actually do it in the middle of the day when it’s way too hot because that’s better for the grass. So if the grass is still kind of wet from the morning, it’s not as happy to be chopped down. Just the fact that I thought we had a friendship beyond work, and he was one of the few people I looked to as a mentor here at UH Hilo, because he was a happy older guy. That’s what I want to be when I grow up. If I’m not happy, what’s my problem?”

Farrah Marie Gomes

“His heart, from start to finish, was all about our students. We will find a way to get past this, and the best way for us to do this is to do it together. Everybody copes differently, everybody processes differently, and we know that because we work with students day in and day out, and now we need to apply that to ourselves and be there for each other. It’s a critical time for us to also be there for our students, and also making sure that we are putting our circle of support around all of us right now. We will get through. We are resilient, both as a division, and the university.”