by Don Thomson and Chris Gray
ACB has just lost one of its truly great state leaders as well as a leading figure in the Randolph-Sheppard vending program. Warren Toyama of the Hawaii Association of the Blind was its founder and guiding spirit for several decades. He was born on the island of Hawaii on April 2, 1936 and passed away in Honolulu on Nov. 3, 2022. One of his favorite things was to “talk story” with acquaintances and friends, and here we intend to talk story about our dear friend, Warren Toyama. He believed firmly that in this way we would strengthen one another and the movement of all blind people with whom we became acquainted.
Warren began his work in leadership as an extremely active member of his high school, ultimately serving as its valedictorian following many other accomplishments. He graduated from the University of Hawaii in sociology, followed by a successful career as a salesman for World Book Encyclopedia. He was the first disabled person to become a part of management in this organization.
As time progressed, Warren moved on to be an active Hawaiian blind vendor and headed a corporation of blind vendors who outbid a sighted-run corporation for the vending facility at the Honolulu Airport. While at the airport, Warren was able to get legislation passed giving blind people preference in the operation of the airport, which came to include three large stands over time. The state then violated its own laws and took the stands away from the blind.
Warren started the Hawaii Federation of the Blind and handpicked a few members to get the organization up and running. It was chartered in 1966. He and the organization succeeded in passing legislation on several areas, including the adoption by blind parents of children, sighted or blind.
The most important legislation which Warren almost singlehandedly got passed through the legislature was returning the airport vending facilities for the blind to the blind. Following the passage of the legislation, negotiations took place which set up the conditions for the present corporation, which is in charge of that vending facility. It has grown to be a highly successful facility comprising 10 separate vending stands throughout Hawaii. Proceeds from this operation go in part to the three members of the authorized corporation. In addition, Ho’opono, the rehabilitation organization for the blind of Hawaii, receives funding to run its vending facility program for the benefit of Hawaiian vendors. Third, the Foundation, a subsidiary of the corporation, receives considerable funding which was set to help the blind generally in Hawaii. This structure and particularly the subsidiary nonprofit corporation are a long-lasting tribute to the vision and creativity of Warren Toyama.
While all of this success for the blind was transpiring, Warren had had enough of the National Federation of the Blind and led the organization out of NFB. He was always very prideful in saying: “We weren’t thrown out like so many other NFB affiliates. We just quit.” The Hawaii Association of the Blind (HAB) was formed and served as an independent entity for a short time and was then lucky enough to join the American Council of the Blind.
Another of Warren’s greatest accomplishments was spotting the potential of a young man who wasn’t well-educated but was very innately bright. Many came to know him as Filo Tu. Filo served for a time as president of HAB and was active at national conventions. Sadly, he passed several years ago due to pernicious cancer.
Warren has not been active the past 5 or 6 years either in HAB or in RSVA due to ill health and overall physical decline. HAB has continued on its merry way with the aforementioned guiding spirit of Warren Toyama. His knowledge and foresight created an organization that hopefully will last for many decades into the future.
Here are a few memories of people close to Warren and his wife, Julie, that they specifically wished to share with you.
Donna Seliger, Secretary, RSVA: My husband Bob and I traveled to Hawaii many times over our 30-year marriage. We met Warren and Julie early on and found them to be a warm and interesting couple. On several of our visits to the islands, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Hawaii Association of the Blind before their annual conventions. I can picture Warren sitting on a low table (small space) swinging his legs to music and singing along with it. Warren was a very wise leader of the HAB until he stepped down and gave the reins to Filo Tu. Warren and Filo made an outstanding organization grow over the years.
Filo left us first, having battled cancer, and now we mourn the loss of Warren Toyama. It is my hope HAB will thrive and grow from the knowledge and wisdom Warren promoted. Aloha Warren! You will be missed by so many who knew and loved you.
Art Cabanilla, President, Hawaii Association of the Blind: Warren was a visionary person. He saw things in advance, and because of that, he could plan for the present and future of HAB. That made him an exemplary leader for us. He believed in us and now we must believe in his work and vision for the future. Aloha and thank you, Warren. Best wishes.