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UH Board of Regents to Confer Honorary Degrees on Elizabeth Birch and Robert Midkiff

University of Hawaiʻi
Jim Manke, (808) 956-6099
External Affairs & University Relations
Kristen Cabral, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: May 9, 2002

The University of Hawaiʻi will present honorary degrees, the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, to Elizabeth M. Birch and Robert R. Midkiff at the UH Mānoa graduate commencement exercises on Sunday, May 19, at 2 p.m. Both individuals are recognized by the UH Board of Regents for excellence in their professional and personal lives.

Elizabeth M. Birch, who will also serve as the keynote speaker during the graduate commencement exercises, is a 1980 graduate of UH Mānoa and is currently the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America‘s largest gay and lesbian organization. Under her leadership, HRC has become a highly visible and effective advocate for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Today, HRC has a reputation as one of the top political organizations on Capitol Hill and across the nation. Birch also heads the HRC Foundation, the organization‘s educational arm. During her tenure, the Foundation has pioneered an array of unique programs including the HRC WorkNet, a comprehensive resource center for workplace advocacy, and HRC FamilyNet, a virtual online village for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families.

Prior to her HRC appointment in 1995, Birch was worldwide director of litigation and human resources counsel for Apple Computer, Inc. She has served as general counsel to Claris Corporation, Apple‘s wholly owned software subsidiary.

Birch has a long history of activism in the gay and lesbian community. She has assisted a variety of Fortune 500 companies develop and implement nondiscrimination and domestic partner policies, and has authored a number of AIDS anti-discrimination policies that have become law in California. She is the founder of AIDS Legal Services, a model program for people with AIDS/HIV in northern California.

Robert R. Midkiff is a kamaʻāina in the deepest sense of the word and has led the way in a myriad of community efforts to make Hawaiʻi a better place to live. As a descendant of a long-line of Hawaiʻi leaders, Bob and his family have played pivotal roles in Hawaiʻi‘s history. His great-great-grandparents, Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke, were New England missionaries who came to Hawaiʻi, taught for many years, and founded the Hawaiʻi Chiefs Children‘s School that educated the future King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma, King Lunalilo, King Kalakaua, Queen Liliʻuokalani, and Princess Bernice Pauahi. Later, Amos Cooke co-founded Castle & Cooke. Midkiff‘s great grandparents, Joseph and Juliette Cooke Atherton, established the Atherton Family Foundation. His father, Frank Midkiff, served as a long-time teacher at Kamehameha Schools and later became a trustee of the Bishop Estate.

In 1958, Midkiff founded the American Trust Company of Hawaiʻi where he specialized in custodial accounts for small business who did their own investing, created provisions for profit sharing and employee ownership, and championed the concerns of his predominantly female staff by initiating the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable involvement in the establishment of a child care center — an absolutely new concept during its time. He also put together downtown‘s first commercial condominium, the Financial Plaza of the Pacific, and co-chaired the State Capitol development.

Today, Midkiff is very active in the community where he is well recognized for his many philanthropic and community efforts. He is a member of the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable, founding board member of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, president of the Atherton Family Foundation, president of the Good Beginnings Alliance, a strong supporter of the Humane Society, and chairman of the board of the Hawaiʻi Theatre.