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WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Takai, a first-term Democrat from Hawaii, died Wednesday after battling cancer.
Takai, 49, died at home surrounded by his family. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, said Rod Tanonaka, Takai's chief of staff.
Born on Oahu, Takai served in the state House of Representatives for 20 years before he was elected to Congress, first winning his statehouse seat at age 27. He served as a longtime lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard for more than a decade and was deployed to the Middle East as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Congress, he sat on the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees.
"Mark humbly and effectively served the people of his state House and Congressional districts," Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a statement. "In the often tumultuous world of politics, he has been a shining example of what it means to be a public servant."
Takai was first diagnosed with cancer in October and initially expressed optimism that he would recover. But in May he announced he would not seek re-election after he learned the cancer had spread.
Takai's passing was mourned among his colleagues in Hawaii and Washington on Wednesday, with politicians recalling his gentle, kind nature.
"All of us were moved when he announced his cancer to Vice President Biden and the Members at the House Democrats' Issues Conference earlier this year," said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement. "Mark confronted his diagnosis with the spirit we all hope we would share when facing such an awful disease. As we mourn the loss of our friend, we draw fresh resolve to find cures."
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served with Takai in the Congress, the Hawaii Army National Guard and the state Legislature, said Takai had "a servant's heart, full of aloha."
"No matter where he was, he always kept his service to Hawaii's people at the forefront of his actions," Gabbard said. "Mark's smiling face and ready laugh will truly be missed, but the impact that he made through his life of service to the people of Hawaii will always be remembered."
Hawaii Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Matayoshi remembered Takai as a staunch advocate for public schools who pushed tirelessly for education funding and resources.
Takai is survived by his wife, Sami, and two young children. "The Takai family thanks the people of Hawaii for their support during this difficult time," said a release by his office. His family requested privacy.
"This is the deepest of losses and one that I feel very personally because of my friendship with Mark," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. "Throughout his life, he was all about serving the people of Hawaii. He gave so much, and had so much more yet to give."
Ige's office was researching next steps to determine whether the governor would appoint a replacement or if the Legislature would have to be called into a special session, spokeswoman Jodi Leong said.