John DeFrancis, UH Mānoa emeritus professor of Chinese studies, died Jan. 2 in Honolulu at age 97. An influential author of Chinese language text and resource books, he was revising his seminal beginning Chinese readers at the time of his death.
During the Great Depression, DeFrancis traveled to Bejing, where he studied Chinese, met his wife Kay and traced the route of Genghis Khan. He returned to Yale as that university’s first PhD student in Chinese studies.
McCarthyism cost DeFrancis his job as assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, but he eventually returned to academia to produce the widely used DeFrancis series of Chinese language textbooks and joined the UH faculty in 1966.
He worked 10 years without compensation to produce the unprecedented ABC (Alphabetically Based Computerized) Chinese-English Dictionary (University of Hawaiʻi Press). All royalties from the series were donated to support work on successive editions.
DeFrancis’s philanthropy also supported UH’s Center for Chinese Studies and human rights organizations.
Hilmer Frank, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, died Aug. 28, 2008 at age 84. He was living in Sugar Land, Tex.
Frank was a faculty member in UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources from 1969 to 1990.
He was recognized for his expertise in histamine formation in marine fish, receiving grant and research money from the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Throughout his career, he mentored food microbiology graduate students.
Hiromu Matsumoto died Nov. 20, 2008 at age 88. He was a founding professor and chair in the Department of Agricultural Biochemistry in UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Matsumoto’s research focused on plant toxins. Significant discoveries included identifying a powerful plant cancer-causing agent called cycasin in cycad nuts, which launched a worldwide search for carcinogens in food plants. He was on the cover of Cancer Research in 1971.
Ah Quon McElrath, a UH alumna (BA, BS ’38 Mānoa) and former regent, died Dec. 11, 2008 in Honolulu at age 92.
Born to Chinese immigrants in Iwilei, she lost her father at age 5 and started working summers in a pineapple cannery at 13. A tireless advocate for Hawaiʻi’s workers, she signed dockworkers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union after college.
She married fellow organizer Bob McElrath in 1941 and helped organize the ILWU in Hawaiʻi after World War II. She became the union’s first social worker in 1954 and lobbied for legislation to protect agricultural workers and improve social services and public education disability insurance.
McElrath retired in 1981 but continued to play an activist’s role. She helped create the ethnic studies program at Mānoa, served on the UH Board of Regents and volunteered in the School of Law’s Elder Law Program.
She received the UH Distinguished Alumni Award in 1989 and the UH Founder’s Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award and Hawaiʻi Institute for Public Affairs’ Hoʻoulu Award for leadership in 2004.