I knew Darrell Takaoka
long before I actually met him. Through conversations with Lorraine
Takaoka, his mother, learned a lot about her second son. Especially
interesting to me was the common interest we shared in keeping tropical
fish. One evening, while browsing through the aisles at Petland
Ala Moana, I saw a guy who looked a lot like Lorraines husband,
Roy. I knew that it must be Darrell.
After introducing myself,
we got to talking and found we had a lot in common. Although Darrell
was interested in a wide variety of freshwater and marine fishes
and invertebrates, he was particularly fascinated by a group of
freshwater catfishes belonging to the genus Corydoras, or
corys for short. By coincidence, this was also the group that I
was very interested in.
from South American and includes the common bronze, albino and peppered
catfish that can be found in just about any petshop in Hawaii. Probably
unknown to most fishkeepers is the fact that this group of catfishes
includes more than a hundred species, with more new species discovered
every year. As knowledgeable as I was about this particular group
of fishes, I was amazed at how much Darrell knew.
When most hobbyists describe
the fishes they keep, they may describe the color of the fish, or
use terms like skinny or fat. Darrell talked
about inter-orbital distances, fin ray and scale counts and snout
lengths. Although he had been a business major at UH, he thought
like a scientist. It was all the more amazing to me because he was
self-taught. As zoology majors I think many of us remember ichthyology
labs and the tedium of counting scales and fin rays. It was not
something most of us particularly enjoyed. Darrell picked all of
this up on his own.
Besides being probably
the foremost expert on Corydoras catfish in Hawaii, Darrells
interest and expertise extended into the marine realm as well. He
played a crucial role in Dr. Randalls description of a second
aholehole species in Hawaii. John Hoover, in his book, Hawaiis
Sea Creatures, acknowledged Darrells contributions, and described
Darrells uncanny ability to locate and collect rare and unusual
marine animals almost on demand. It was something that I witnessed
One evening we were talking
about native gobies and I mentioned to Darrell that the pointedtail
goby, Oxyurichthys lonchotus, seemed much less common than
it once was. I used to catch this fish in the lower Manoa Stream/Ala
Wai Canal in the past, but had not seen it for many years. A few
days later I got a call from Darrell, who managed to collect a specimen
for me under the bridge at Kailua Beach Park. He sent it in with
his mom the next day.
Darrell was a humble
and modest individual, who was not inclined to talk about his many
accomplishments. It was only through Lorraine that I learned about
his many other talents. It was Darrell, for example, who painted
the red Asian arowana poster displayed in many petshops. If you
look closely at the poster, you can see that not only is it beautiful,
but its accurate to the tiniest detail.
Besides drawing and painting,
Darrell was an accomplished musician and sculpturer. I just recently
had an opportunity to listen to a tape of Darrell jamming on his
guitar. If you didnt know any better, you would swear that
you were listening to a professional guitarist; pretty impressive
for someone who was self-taught. Lorraine also showed me photos
of some very impressive pieces Darrell sculpted during his UH days.
He could also do some amazing things with a boogie board. According
to his brother Alden, he could have been a pro.
Darrell supplied aquatic
plants to several Honolulu petshops. He would collect the plants
from streams in Honolulu and Kaneohe, and in Quarry Pond on the
UH campus. Several years ago when the UH budget was cut back, maintenance
of the pond was reduced and the pond became overgrown with California
grass. Although Darrell had other collecting spots to collect his
plants from, out of a sense of giving back, Darrell took it upon
himself to keep the pond clear. He would spend hours upon hours
cutting and pulling out the grass himself. On several occasions
he paid the UH maintenance people out of his own pocket, to compensate
them for using their heavy equipment to help clear out the weeds.
How many people would think to do that?
Whether it was collecting
aquarium plants or nearshore invertebrates, Darrell did most of
his work at night. One reason was that the animals were out, and
more easily collected. Another, perhaps more important reason was
that it was quiet and peaceful and a good time to think and reflect
upon things. Darrell enjoyed doing that.
Darrell was the kind
of guy who would literally give you the shirt off his back. He was
a regular and generous contributor to the River of Life charity,
which takes care of the homeless. It was not unusual for Darrell
to walk up to homeless people and hand them some money so they could
get something to eat. When he got sick, he made his parents promise
to continue supporting this charity.
Darrell suspected that
something was wrong several years ago. In typical fashion, he accepted
his fate and planned his life accordingly. He had a girlfriend,
but made the decision not to get seriously involved with her because
he did not want to leave her a widow. It was typical Darrell, always
putting others before himself.
With his mom and dad
always accompanying him for support, Darrell went to many doctors
to see if they could help. He was prescribed a range of medications,
and to the surprise and amazement of his doctors, Darrell selected
the medications he would take and modified the dosages and his treatment
schedule accordingly. He kept meticulous notes, read the available
literature, and knew exactly how the medications were affecting
him. Im sure the doctors learned something from Darrell.
In our conversations
and in his notes to me towards the end of his life, Darrell never
expressed anger or bitterness at the hand he was dealt, just a calm
acceptance that I found amazing. He loved his mom and dad, his brother
Alden, and all that they did for him. He was also happy with the
things that he was able to accomplish in his life. Darrell passed
away on April 13, 2002 at the age of 33. So this was the Darrell
Takaoka I knew; devoted friend, beloved son and brother, scientist,
naturalist, painter, sculpturer, musician, boogie boarder and benefactor
of the poor and unfortunate. He was such a rare individual. I feel
priviledged to have known him, and to have been considered a friend.
Like a shooting star, Darrells time on this earth was brief,
but he shined ever so brightly and touched the lives of so many