A few years ago our hanai (adopted) grandmother, Ida Gibson, celebrated her 100th birthday at Manoa Senior Care. We attended the event, as did every television station in Honolulu. Ida was on the evening news, it was a Sunday in October 2006, and fortunately for her, a slow news day.
Ida was quite pleased at the attention, posed for photographs, had guests from her old neighborhood in Waimanalo to family from England, and even had received a letter from the Queen of England. I was looking at the photos from that event recently. There is one where my daughters, who were 5- and 3-years old at the time, flanked Ida. In that Kodak moment there was Sophie, 5, with a gap-toothed grin, and Charlotte, 3, timid and quite uncomfortable. On the ride home that day they told me that old people made them nervous.
That’s quite different from my own childhood. There were some people who were old and grumpy, but I was never afraid of them. Those seniors had issues that existed long before me! I realized then that my girls don’t spend a lot of time with aging relatives. Except for my in-laws, all of our relatives are on the mainland. So hanging out at an old aunt’s house, which was any day for me, doesn’t happen for my girls.
Anyway, Ida died Saturday evening, Dec. 18, 2010, 104 years young.
Ida and I are linked to the Benders similarly. I’m married to John, and she was married to Robbie Gibson, who worked with my father-in-law in the Pacific Islands Trust Territories from 1950-1965. My in-laws were the young marrieds who had three daughters in the 1950s while living in the Marshall Islands, another daughter and John while on the Mainland. The young family took a ship and sailed around the world when they returned to the United States. In 1962, the Benders arrived in Hawaii when Byron accepted a teaching position at the University of Hawaii, and his wife Lois at the East-West Center, a few years later after the girls and John got into school.
Ida and her husband retired to Waimanalo in 1965. The couples’ friendship grew over the years and they were virtually family.
Enter me, 1989, when I meet John at The Honolulu Advertiser and fell in love on my second day on the job. He fell in love two years later. That’s when I got to start attending family events, which always included the Gibsons. Ida, although she had left England many years prior, still had her strong English accent. Robbie was an education activist until he died. When his funeral service was held in Waimanalo in 1991, I was amazed at the turnout. I remember Ah Quon McElrath saying such inspiring words about Robbie.
So yes, they were quite special. But, Ida for all her Englishness, could also be quite blunt and we’d rub each other the wrong way sometimes. Once she called to give me a scolding and to tell me she liked me, that she loved me! I was letting my stubborn Jersey girlness show through over something. Eventually we found a happy place. In fact, Ida got so comfortable with me that she let me know I was fat at a summer birthday party. This was when I was pregnant with Sophie. And yes, I had been fat for like three years thanks to all those miscarriages. I was glad I could tell her I was pregnant. Being fat and not pregnant because of a miscarriage is no fun to talk about. So, she was quite pleased for me at that point.
Ida loved detective novels, and drank a shot of Harvey’s Bristol Cream each evening. She always had afternoon tea, she did not smoke, and I heard she was a good cook. She and Robbie had a two-story home in Waimanalo, around the corner from Bueno Nalo and Kaneke’s. They were a block from the ocean. Back in 1965 when they bought the place, it was $10,000. They couldn’t afford the beach-front homes that went for $13,000. When her home was sold and she moved to Manoa Senior Care in 2004, she got much, much, much, much more for that home. It was razed in a matter of weeks and a fabulously new place is there now. That old house scared me. Lots of wood rot from being so close to the ocean. I was worried we’d fall through the upstairs floor!
So here’s her obituary written by my father-in-law. My in-laws visited with Ida every week, and their reports were a blend of poignant resignation. Ida was fierce, and it wasn’t easy to see her succumb. We all must, though.
Ida Violet Chapman Gibson 1906-2010
Ida Gibson was born in London, England, on Oct. 1, 1906, the daughter of a master mariner, the second of three children. After the family moved to Liverpool, Ida trained as a teacher and taught young children in a school near the Liverpool docks. While on a holiday cruise to the Baltic, she met a young American teacher, Robert Gibson, and a whirlwind romance followed, which led to marriage in the 1930s and Ida’s move to the USA.
At the outbreak of World War II, Ida became secretary to the British Naval Attache in Washington, D.C., but moved to San Francisco after Pearl Harbor when Robert became responsible for the education of the Japanese Americans who had been interned — an act they always opposed.
After WWII, they spent time in Korea before Robert was appointed Director of Education for the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1951, during which time they lived on Oahu, Guam, Chuuk, and Saipan before retiring to Waimanalo in 1965. Robert died in 1991 at the age of 93. Following his death, Ida continued to live in Waimanalo until moving to Manoa Senior Care in 2004.
Having no children of her own, she took great interest in her British nephews and nieces, with regular correspondence and visits before health rendered the journey too exhausting. Always known by them as their glamorous American aunt, she plied them with food parcels and luxuries such as chocolate and cake mix during rationing after the war. She was an avid reader and loved discussions on any subject, and although she retained her British nationality, she was a great supporter of the American way of life. She is survived by six nieces and nephews, all living in England, and their offspring.