By David Lichtenstein
“He achieved success because he lived well, laughed often and loved much. We ‘ll miss you forever.”
These fond words, printed in his Celebration of Life program, helped to capture the life of Hilarion “Larry” Hugh Helm on July 27 at St. Damien Catholic Church in Kaunakakai. They also offer the best definition of “success” I have ever heard.
But they are only words. Mere words cannot describe the true impact and spirit of a man who touched everyone he met and echoed as far as the halls of the United States Congress.
As the oldest, and most public, of the seven Helm children, Larry imprinted the spirit of the Helm ‘ohana on Molokai and everyone he met. It was a generosity of spirit that extended the idea of ‘ohana well beyond the four walls of the Helm home, as his daughter Nichol illustrated so well in her eulogy.
Nichol talked about holidays at the Helm house. She remembered Christmas dinners when Larry would suddenly bring home a group of friends. Of course many were friends whom Larry had just met that same day. While the kids might not have always enjoyed sharing a crowded dinner table and awkward conversations with strangers, this was life at the Helms. “It will all work out,” Larry would tell the family. “And more often than not it did,” said Nichol.
I felt this generosity of spirit when I first started as editor at The Molokai Times newspaper. It was more than the introductions or warm greetings he offered. Every year before Thanksgiving, he would always stop by our office to invite our interns to a real Thanksgiving dinner at his Ho’olehua home. No, it was not a public relations stunt designed to ingratiate the local media. It was a genuine reaching out to young people in need. Our hard-working intern reporters received a roof over their heads, a car, and not much else. We generally had four, and sometimes five, interns at a time, but Larry never hesitated in opening up his home to them during a time of year when homesick feelings often hit hard.
Larry had the unique ability to meet a person and make them feel like they had known him their whole life. Nichol described his special skill at making people feel comfortable. But it was more than that. It was about creating and building relationships and Larry knew how to do this. Whether it was by inventing a clever nickname, recalling a small detail about their life or remembering his in-laws with a single rose every Valentine’s Day, Larry was a master at developing human connections. More than anything else, it was this ability that made Larry a natural leader.
Nichol interspersed her eulogy with video of Larry shot shortly before his death on June 19. Even on his deathbed, Larry’s humor still came through. The packed church laughed and listened as Larry talked about the days growing up on the Kalama’ula homestead, or Molokai’s desperate need for a veteran’s center. It was like Larry was present at his own celebration of life, which is what he would have wanted, said Nichol.
During the time of sharing, U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard presented a videotaped message for the audience. In her remarks about Larry’s patriotism and dedication, she reiterated her commitment to see the Molokai Veterans’ Center reach its completion. While he was still alive, Rep. Gabbard had honored Larry with a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, calling him a true hero. As commander and founder of Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans, Larry spent the final decade of his life fighting for the creation of the center.
Following Nichol’s eulogy, Larry’s niece Raiatea Helm graced the audience with an “Ave Maria” — accompanying herself on ukulele — that resonated the walls of the church with an angelic and otherworldly beauty.
After completion of the Catholic liturgy, Larry’s committal took place at the Kanakaloloa Veteran Cemetery in Ho’olehua. The entire Molokai community was invited to join the Helms afterward for lunch at the new veterans’ center on Wharf Road. While Larry asked that the new center not be named after him, the center — once completed with fixtures and a paved parking lot — will always carry his spirit.
On Tuesday, former Hawaii U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka issued the following statement concerning Larry:
“I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Larry Helm, a veterans’ advocate who was so full of aloha. I relied on his counsel while Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Larry could always be counted on to bring the needs of his fellow veterans — especially those on Molokai — to light. He had a particular interest in improving VA health care and care for the invisible wounds of war. Larry also had a unique ability to remind us all to live pono and fight for what is right — all the time. My hope is we can honor his legacy by working together to see the Veterans Center on Molokai — his passion — completed.”
For a review of Larry’s life and accomplishments, read the story “Larry H. Helm: Community rights leader and veteran advocate.”
Larry was preceded in death by parents George Jarrett Helm, Sr. and Melanie Koko Helm; brothers Gregory Giles Helm, Sr. and George Jarrett Helm, Jr. and daughter Natalie Marie Noelani Helm.
He is survived by spouse Barbara L. Helm (married Sept. 10, 1966); children Michael A. A. Helm, Nichol M. N. Helm (Michael) Kahale, Matthew D. M. (Erika) Helm, Marcus J. K. Helm; grandchildren Kianna-Marie Helm, Kaimana Kahale, Natalia Helm, Kahili Helm, Nainona Kahale, Noelani Helm, Kanalu Kahale, Kahiau Helm, Makena Kahale, Makaio Helm and Jarrett Helm; siblings Stephanie Stacy Crivello, Georgia Mae Helm, Zachary Zane (Henrietta) Helm, Adolph Mendoza (Corene) Helm, hanai sibling Bill (Linda) Puleloa and many nieces and nephews.