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”Eni's passing was peaceful in his home filled with love”

One of the few close friends present when the late former Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, passed away last week in Utah, was University of Hawai’i official Papali’i Dr. Failautusi Avegalio, who witnessed Faleomavaega’s final moments, when “his spirit was lifted from his body by the gentle winds of grace.”

And as word continued to spread of Faleomavaega’s passing, more congressional members have expressed sadness for Faleomavaega, who is described by US Rep. Nancy Pelosi as “a patriot and a leader who personified the highest ideals of our nation.”

As previously reported by Samoa News, Faleomavaega passed away peacefully last Wednesday afternoon (Utah time) surrounded by family and a few close friends at his home in Provo, Utah. One of the close friends was Papali’i, who heads the University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program.

Papali’i flew to Utah last Tuesday night and he along with Don Saaga, “a close friend of ours,” arrived at Faleomavaega’s home Wednesday afternoon (Utah time), Papali’i said.

“I brought with me from Hawaii, a puakinikini lei that his daughters placed around his neck,” Papali’i told Samoa News last Friday morning after arriving back in Honolulu. “He could hardly hear nor speak but I know he would recognize the fragrance of home as it was the only way we could think of, to bring his beloved Islands to him in his final moments.”

“Approximately twenty minutes after, Faleomavaega's spirit was lifted from his body by the gentle winds of grace,” Papali’i recalled. “Surrounded by his wife Hinanui and their children and close family, Eni's passing was peaceful in his home filled with love and remembrances.”

“I was privileged to share the final moments with my dear, dear friend,” he added.

In a brief statement last Thursday, Pelosi, a Democrat from California and former Speaker of the US House, says Faleomavaega “was a patriot and a leader who personified the highest ideals of our nation.”

“Eni dedicated his entire life to service. He was a proud Army veteran,” said Pelosi, who is also the House Democratic leader, adding that during Faleomavaega’s 26 years in Congress, he “brought outspoken and effective leadership for American Samoa” to the US House.

“Eni was a relentless champion for the rights and advancement of his constituents. His life and leadership powerfully spotlighted the immense contributions of Americans from U.S. territories,” she said. “May it comfort his family and friends that so many join in their sorrow at the passing of this extraordinary man.”

In a statement released Thursday, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, chairperson of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said Faleomavaega was “a true patriot, leader, and friend.”

Throughout his distinguished military and public service career, Chu said Faleomavaega, one of the founding members of CAPAC, “dedicated his life to putting country above self” and “was a strong champion for his constituents and the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”

During his time in Congress, Faleomavaega worked to secure critical funding to improve America Samoa’s infrastructure, health care system, and schools, said Chu of California.

As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, “he also worked tireless to cultivate stronger U.S. relations throughout the Asia-Pacific region and to highlight the strategic role of our U.S. territories in the Pacific,” she said. .

“I always enjoyed working with Eni, and will never forget his unwavering dedication to advancing the rights of his constituents and all Americans. His leadership will truly be missed,” Chu said. “My thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

At last Friday’s federal Interagency Group on Insular Affairs annual meeting in Washington D.C., Interior Department’s acting assistant secretary for insular areas, Nikolao Pula, in his remarks, asked all attendees to remember Faleomavaega a “major political leader of the Pacific”, according to a DOI news release following Friday’s meeting.

Pula declared that American Samoa, the Pacific in general and the peoples throughout the U.S. territories “have lost a champion,” it says.