Elaine Mililani Whisman
Friday, May 27, 2022 ~ 10:30-12:30
The Island Girl Too Much For An Island
Elaine Mililani (Correa) Whisman was born September 28, 1934 to Lawrence and Dolores (Silva) Correa. She passed away peacefully on May 18, 2022, after a day in the company of family.
Elaine’s life began on the tiny rock outcroppings in the vast Pacific Ocean, at Honolulu, Hawaii. The Correa and Silva families had emigrated in the latter part of the 19th century from Madeira and The Azores islands. In Hawaii the families joined a thriving community of Portuguese expats. Lawrence and Dolores carved out a simple life of hard work centered on the railroads serving Pearl Harbor and a series of small businesses. Extended family gatherings came alive with music, hula, and plenty of homemade Portuguese, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese dishes.
Elaine thrived in this island community. She loved the warm Pacific trade breezes that blew freely through open windows of their Hawaiian homes. She loved the ocean and surfing, and hiking the rainforest-covered mountains. She loved to read and to sing, and she loved school. She clung to these passions throughout life and shared them with her children.
When Elaine was 15 years-old, the family was blessed with the birth of Phyllis. Elaine took quickly and devotedly to big sister duties. Elaine and Phyllis remained loving sisters and cherished friends throughout their lives.
Despite its obvious natural beauty and cultural richness, Elaine realized that another world lay beyond the vast ocean that surrounded her home. With a spirit and determination unexpected and perhaps not appreciated in a woman of her time, Elaine resolved to leave the islands and venture to “The Mainland.” This decision revealed an independent and somewhat contrarian streak that defined her whole life and which reportedly sent ripples of gossip, dismay, alarm and, perhaps, also some admiration, through her family and close-knit neighborhood of Kamehameha Heights. But those who knew her well understood that no amount of pre-Twitter twitter would deter Elaine from pursuing this adventure.
At the age of 20, she boarded a twin-propeller airplane for the 12+ hour flight to the City by the Bay. She found a new community at the YWCA Residence Club, a job in the finance department of Pacific Telephone, and made many friends from around the country.
Music and singing were part of Elaine’s being, so it is no surprise that she joined the choir at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral shortly after arriving in San Francisco. It was there that she met Frederick James Whisman. She was most likely drawn to his twinkling blue eyes and gentle smile, because his singing voice was unlikely to have reeled her in. They were married on January 14, 1960 and remained devoted and loving partners and friends through 36 years of marriage until Fred’s death in 1996.
Unafraid of a challenge, Fred and Elaine welcomed four children in less than six years: John Lawrence, James Morrissey (Jim), Anne Marie (Amy), and Frederick Damien (Rick). Elaine reared her children with love, focus, determination, and, of course, independent mindedness. She insisted on healthy foods from the culinary riches of the Pacific Rim- Grape Nuts over Frosted Flakes and dim sum over McDonalds. Television was rationed, but the phonograph spun constantly with the soundtracks of Broadway musicals. Respect and kindness towards others was paramount (when we kids weren’t beating on each other). Elaine took immense pride in her home, and loved hosting multi-course holiday feasts, or opening the house to rowdy teenagers for Gordos burritos and a Niners game. Later in life, nothing made Elaine happier than to cook with her kids and their spouses, surrounded by her lucky 13 brood of grandchildren: Iain, Linnea, Laird, Madelaine, Nils, Marissa, Cassidy, Charlotte, Ricky, Tyler, Gabriel, Quinn, and Riley. She was dearly loved and admired by her daughters-in-law Kathleen, Cecilia, and Sharon, and her son-in-law Tim, all of whom counted her as a bonus mom and true friend.
Elaine’s life after the children were reared – as if there is any such date – involved a mix of her varied interests. She studied and then practiced kitchen design for some years. She and Fred traveled. She sorely missed Fred when he died in 1996; no suitor ever measured up thereafter, and she lived contentedly on her own at both Ewing Terrace and then the Sequoias for 15 years. A highlight of our lives was a family trip to Hawaii in 2011 with all the kids, spouses, and grandkids joining Elaine for a swim in the Waikiki waves that she rode decades before.
As her health waned in recent years and Parkinson’s took a stronger hold, Elaine had to content herself with car rides instead of walks. She especially enjoyed trips to the beach and gazing westward over the breakers, and excursions to museums and botanical gardens. The disease eventually robbed Elaine of her ability to find words and to speak and her frustration would be evident. But, almost miraculously, the disease never defeated her singing. Until the end, she remembered the lyrics to hundreds of songs, the entire alto part of Handel’s Messiah, and could sing Hawai’i Pono’ī, her beloved state anthem, without hesitation.
Elaine Mililani Whisman was a woman of grace, poise, style, determination, and love for her family. She lives on in the love of music, humor, the outdoors, and elaborate holiday meals that bind our family together to this day. Aloha Oe, Elaine Mililani, until we meet again.
A celebration of Elaine’s life will be held at 10:30 am on Friday May 27 at Fernwood Cemetery, 301 Tennessee Valley Road in Mill Valley. Dress is casual, with Hawaiian prints and leis encouraged.
If you would like to make a donation in Elaine’s name, please consider By The Bay Health, the hospice that supported her and all of us in her final months. https://bythebayhealth.org/donate-now/