UH Med Now

Remembering the UH medical school’s Yoshitsugi Hokama, PhD (1926-2017)

Date: October 5th, 2017 in Alumni News, Faculty, Giving, JABSOM News, Research    Print or PDF

Photo shows Jon Hokama with his father Dr. Y. Hokama in 2017.

Pictured: Dr. Hokama, right, with his son Jon Hokama. Family photo.

After a 42-year career of research, inventions and teaching, Yoshitsugi Hokama, PhD, retired in 2008 from the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). He was said to have regretted retiring, although his brilliant teaching career had already inspired about 150 former students to go onto rewarding posts in medicine and the basic sciences.

Dr. Hokama died last month at the age of 90 at Maluhia.

Some of Dr. Hokama’s academic contributions include:

  • Basic and clinical research on C-reactive protein as a marker of inflammation
  • Basic and clinical studies of ciguatoxin and other marine biotoxins
  • Development of the first field-based rapid detection test kit for ciguatoxin
  • Clinical research on the relationship between anticardiolipin antibodies and chronic fatigue syndrome

    But he is remembered most warmly for the personal connection he made with each student in his lab.

    “Dr. Hokama was the first person who opened the door to biomedical research for me,” said Dr. Sandra Chang, JABSOM Alumna and Professor in JABSOM’s Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology. “At the time I was an undergraduate biology major with no exposure to research. Dr. Hokama’s friendly and enthusiastic welcome marked the beginning of my life in academia, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities he gave me. In his lab, I met other students who would become lifelong friends and colleagues. All of us agree that our time in Dr. Hokama’s lab had a major impact on our lives and we will always treasure the experience of having had the good fortune of knowing him,” said Dr. Chang.

    "Hoagy's Heroes" honor Dr. Hokama at a 2012 banquet.

    “Hoagy’s Heroes” honor Dr. Hokama at a 2012 banquet.

    Fund honors Dr. Hokama’s work
    A fund established in Dr. Hokama’s name honors his memory through an award presented annually to a college undergraduate studying biosciences or engaged in medical research.

    An anonymous donor has stepped forward, offering to “match” individual gifts to the Hokama fund up to $25,000. That donor has asked that Dr. Hokama’s son, Jon Hokama, who runs American Business Advisors Hawaiʻi, to help promote his matching offer. To qualify for the match, interested donors are asked to initiate their gift through the ABA Hawaiʻi website.

    “Hoagy’s Heroes”
    Dr. Hokama was born in Kohala, on Hawaiʻi Island and attended UH Mānoa between 1943 and 1945. In 1946, he enlisted in the U.S. Army andwas assigned to be a microbiologist. When Army colleagues couldn’t pronounce his first name, Yoshitsugi, they took to calling him “Hoagy”, a nickname for his last name Hokama, which stuck. After the war, “Hoagy” completed his education at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he began his research career. Thereafter, when former students would get together with Dr. Hokama, they dubbed themselves “Hoagy’s Heroes.”

    Dr. Hokama was always willing to give motivated students the opportunity to strengthen their applications by working in his lab, whether by running sophisticated tests, washing dishes or volunteering to clean the rat cages, Glenn Kimura recalled during one of those gatherings to honor “Hoagy.”

    “He encouraged students to rise to the challenges of scientific research even as undergraduates. Many of his students accomplished enough work to become published authors of journal articles and abstracts and forced them to get up and present their work at symposia. His recommendations carried a lot of weight in support of their applications,” Kimura said that day.

    Photo shows Dr. Hokama speaking during an event in 2014

    Dr. Yoshitsuge Hokama, speaking at a gathering in 2014.


    If you need more information about giving to JABSOM or the Hokama Fund, contact Elaine Evans, JABSOM Development Director.

    Related Story:
    “JABSOM in the Genes”: Growing up as the son of a popular professor

    Share this: