Colleagues Bid Long-Serving Am. Samoa Congressman Farewell

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Faleomavaega paid tribute for nearly 40 years of service

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 29, 2014) – After nearly four decades on Capitol Hill, American Samoa’s longest serving congressional delegate, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni was bid farewell by his colleagues and friends at a reception on Capitol Hill held in his honor on Nov. 19, according to a news release from Faleomavaega’s office.

The farewell reception for Faleomavaega included members of Congress from the House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as ambassadors, foreign delegations, and their family members.

They paid tribute to the man they call "Our Eni," and did so by sharing memories from their years together. Faleomavaega, beloved by so many on the Hill, first came to Capitol Hill in the 1970s and served as Chief of Staff to the late Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono, American Samoa’s first Representative in Congress, and as Staff Counsel to the late Congressman Phil Burton of San Francisco before he became American Samoa’s delegate in 1989.

He is the first Asian Pacific American in history to become Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

As a reflection of Faleomavaega’s genuine kindness that touched so many and his bipartisan approach that reached across party lines, the reception was attended by many, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul. Leader Pelosi shared memories of Faleomavaega in their early years with Burton long before she and Faleomavaega were both elected to Congress.

"Eni, you are family from the Burtons on," Pelosi stated. The Pelosis visited privately with Faleomavaega and his family, including his wife, Hinanui, and his daughter and son-in-law, Leonne and Fui Vakapuna.

Current and former members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also attended. For example, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who first came to the Hill as a Representative from Arizona’s 1st district in 2001, expressed his gratitude to Faleomavaega as a leader, mentor, and friend, including an unforgettable moment with Faleomavaega when the two were on their way to a hearing.

Faleomavaega was in an elevator with a good number of Samoan visitors whom the Senator described as all resembling NFL linebackers. Faleomavaega immediately held the elevator door open when he saw his friend coming down the hallway. Flake squeezed in to the elevator but once the door closed, rather than ascend to the next floor, the elevator dropped a few feet and the entire group was trapped for about twenty minutes before they were rescued.

Flake joked that the irony of it all was that the hearing was on submerged lands. In his message to Faleomavaega, Senator Flake stated, "Eni, I have such good memories of our time together. Thanks for being such a good friend and mentor to me, and such a good example of a disciple of Christ. I look forward to working with you on a range of issues in the future. With admiration, Jeff Flake, U.S. Senate."

Hawai’i Sen. Mazie Hirono reminisced with Faleomavaega about their early years in the House together and conveyed how much she will miss him being an honorary member of the Hawai‘i State delegation.

Hirono shared how, whenever Faleomavaega had the opportunity, he always reminded President Obama that Kahuku (Faleomavaega’s alma mater) is better than Punahou (the President’s alma mater). "To my brother," Senator Hirono stated, "Thank you for all the kokua. Kahuku High, here I come! Take care, aloha."

In a surprise tribute, former Hawai‘i Sen. Daniel Akaka, whom Faleomavaega affectionately calls by his Hawaiian name, "Kaniela", also joined in on the reception from his home in Hawai‘i via telephone. The pair, who for many years were the only Members of Congress with Polynesian ancestry and who were also founding members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, laughed about their imaginary "Polynesian Caucus" in which Akaka was the Chair and Faleomavaega was the Secretary. Akaka thanked his "brother" Faleomavaega and his wife,Hina, for their years of friendship to him and his wife "Aunty Millie" all the way back to when Faleomavaega was first elected.

Republican Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said "I’m gonna miss you, amigo!" as Faleomavaega introduced her to all the famous Samoans pictured in photos around his office.

When they came across Faleomavaega’s centerpiece photo from the 1960s featuring him with Elvis in Hawai‘i, the Congresswoman laughed, "Elvis is Samoan too? You do know everybody Eni, even Elvis! I already like you. But now I like you even more."

Several who attended wrote in Faleomavaega’s guestbook. Ambassadors and delegations from the Asia-Pacific region, including Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, also expressed their gratitude to Faleomavaega.

Faleomavaega expressed his gratitude and appreciation to all who attended. "I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with such distinguished leaders during my time in Washington, DC. The memories we built are priceless and I wish my friends and colleagues and the people of American Samoa continued success and happiness," Faleomavaega concluded.

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