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National Tropical Botanical Garden Statement on Irene Hirano Inouye

The National Tropical Botanical Garden is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Irene Hirano Inouye on Tuesday, April 7. Irene was not only a remarkable leader in many cultural, educational, and social institutions and organizations; she was an avid supporter and dear friend of the Garden. NTBG’s 1964 Congressional Charter was the first piece of legislation written and successfully passed by Daniel Inouye as a freshman senator who remained a steadfast champion of the Garden for decades. Shortly after Irene and Sen. Inouye were married in 2008, the senator brought Irene to visit NTBG’s national headquarters on Kauai and in 2011 they agreed to serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of our National Blue Ribbon Committee, overseeing a $15 million capital campaign.

After Sen. Inouye passed away in December 2012, Irene continued as Chair of our campaign which sought to make NTBG more resilient by building a vibrant visitor program in McBryde Garden. In 2014, as part of the 50th anniversary of NTBG’s Congressional Charter, Irene attended the celebration in McBryde Garden and participated in the opening ceremony of the garden’s Biodiversity Trail and dedication of the Inouye Overlook which marks the location where Sen. Inouye’s grandparents worked for the McBryde Sugar Plantation. Irene’s years of friendship, support, and dedication to helping NTBG advance plant science, conservation, and education will remain an important part of her legacy, one that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.

NTBG President Chipper Wichman said, “Irene was such an amazing woman, full of grace and dignity that allowed her to fiercely and effectively champion causes that she believed in. It was an honor to have worked closely with her to advance NTBG’s mission. As we mourn her passing, let’s also remember that she has been such a wonderful role model for Hawaii and the world.” NTBG is grateful for Irene’s years of friendship, support, and dedication to helping NTBG advance plant science, conservation, and education which will remain an important part of her legacy, one that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.


—April 8, 2020, Kalaheo, Hawaii