Meet four extraordinary women who are taking on some of the toughest issues facing conservation today — from coral bleaching and Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death to the swift tide of invasive species entering Hawai‘i. Threatening and urgent issues like these are part of the reason they have dedicated their lives to the protection and preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural lands and waters. The other part is their love and deep respect for the natural world, instilled at a young age by their parents. They also praise Punahou for encouraging public service, and fostering a lifetime of moral and personal responsibility.
By Susan Nakamura
When asked what drives her, Suzanne Case shares, “My great curiosity. I really enjoy digging into a topic and trying to understand what the challenge is and thinking through the path forward. It’s something I gained from my Punahou education. The great teachers didn’t just relay information, they embodied an appreciation for exploration.”These questioning and probing problem-solving skills will definitely play a critical role as Case takes on her biggest job yet in serving the public trust. In April 2015, Case was unanimously confirmed by the Hawai‘i State Senate to lead the mammoth Department of Land and Natural Resources, an agency with 900 employees responsible for nearly 1.3 million acres of public lands and state waters.
“I never thought of myself as a leader; I just wanted to get things done. My parents always emphasized personal responsibility and public service,” says Case, who has never hesitated to take on issues she believes in.
While at Punahou, Case and a few of her classmates tackled issues as part of their role in the former Student Faculty Administration Council. “It was the tail end of the ’60s and there was a lot of emphasis on reform,” Case recalls. “The dress code dictated that girls were only allowed to wear dresses and shoes, and hula was required in PE for girls, but not boys. We didn’t feel these were fair, so we challenged the rules.” She also became the first female student government president, which, to some, was a radical move. Case, a no-nonsense, let’s-get-it-done type of individual, was surprised that it was such a big deal.
After attending Williams College and then Stanford University, graduating with a history degree, Case attended Hastings Law School in San Francisco and found her passion in land law. She started practicing at a law firm in real estate transactions before heading to The Nature Conservancy, where her impressive career spanned 28 years – the first 14 as legal counsel for the Western U.S., Hawai‘i and the Asia-Pacific region, and the last 14 as executive director of the Hawai‘i program. Her tenure was marked by a long list of extraordinary accomplishments, including the acquisition oversight of many of The Nature Conservancy preserves and additions to national parks and wildlife refuges.
“I was very fortunate to participate in transformative collaborative conservation initiatives and important conservation protection projects in Hawai‘i, including watershed partnerships and marine conservation,” says Case.
Case is grateful to be able to combine her personal passion for public service with her love for nature. “Growing up on Hawai‘i Island and then O‘ahu, I was always hiking, spearfishing and snorkeling. I even became a certified scuba diver in the eighth grade,” shares Case.
And what does Case do when she isn’t tackling some of Hawai‘i’s biggest land and resource problems? She spends as much time as possible outdoors hiking or swimming, and around her home, nestled in the forested hills of Tantalus, weed-whacking invasive species to keep them from choking indigenous plants. The work never ends, but with a track record and curious mind like Case’s, the work will certainly get the dedicated attention it needs.
Susan Nakamura is a freelance writer in Hawai‘i and the mother of Ana ’20.
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