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OBITUARIES / RICHARD MARKS, 1929 - 2008

Resident of Kalaupapa leprosy colony helped end quarantine

December 16, 2008|TIMES STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Richard Marks, who educated tourists on the Hawaiian island of Molokai about Hansen's disease and the history of the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement and helped the state end its forced quarantine of the colony, has died. He was 79.

Marks, who had been ill for years, died Tuesday at a care home on Molokai, where he was banished more than five decades ago, said his wife, Gloria. His death leaves 23 aging resident-patients at Kalaupapa from the more than 8,000 who had been sent there by the state.

Marks served as the local sheriff, historian and spokesman. He and his wife had operated the peninsula's lone tour service, Damien Tours, since 1966. He also was instrumental in getting Kalaupapa designated as a national historic park in 1980.

Marks' advocacy and outspokenness about how he and other leprosy patients were ostracized, despite drugs that controlled the disease, led the state to reverse in 1969 the quarantine policy that had been instituted by the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1866.

The Kalaupapa peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and rugged, overgrown cliffs on the fourth side. It can be reached only by small planes, boats or mules that carry visitors down a steep cliff trail. Outsiders must be accompanied by a Damien Tours guide, and no one younger than 16 may visit. Marks often drove the battered old school bus that carried tourists to historical sites.

Marks traveled to the Vatican in 1983 to meet with Pope John Paul II, sharing stories about Molokai and Father Damien, the 19th-century Catholic priest from Belgium who cared for leprosy patients and who is expected to be canonized a saint next year.

In 1996, Marks was honored by the Damien-Dutton Society for Leprosy Aid -- considered the most prestigious honor in the field of leprosy -- for educating others about the disease and Kalaupapa.

Born in Puunene on Maui in 1929, Marks served as a merchant marine as a teen and was diagnosed with leprosy when he was 21, after a few lesions appeared on his body. In 1956 he was sent to Kalaupapa, where his father, brother, sister and other family members had been isolated.

He married Gloria in 1962. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son and three daughters.

Although Hansen's disease has become the preferred term for leprosy, Marks chose the old terminology for the chronic disease that primarily affects the skin and nervous system.

"I'm a leper," he said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner in 1996. "They treated me like a leper all my life. They tore us away from our families and homes, segregated us here and treated us like untouchables. They only use that other word because 'leper' now makes them feel uncomfortable."

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news.obits@latimes.com

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