Remembering Frank Boas – ‘A friend to all’

May 28, 2013

In a warm and welcoming service of remembrance for Frank Boas that drew some of the state’s most influential individuals to the garden café at the Honolulu Museum of Art on May 15, friends and colleagues remembered a man whose deep passion for supporting education provided exceptional opportunities for students, ranging all the way from elementary to law school.

The event was planned by the William S. Richardson School of Law, for which Boas played a pivotal role in supporting international programs such as the school’s Pacific-Asian Legal Studies (PALS) program and its LL.M. program, which brings foreign-trained lawyers to Richardson for Masters Degree studies. Boas also helped bring a Harvard Law School professor to Hawai‘i each winter as part of  “J-Term,” an intense two weeks of extra courses during January between semesters.

“He was a one-man network – deeply interested in other people and in getting things done in a civilized way,” said Richardson Law School Dean Avi Soifer, who also called him an exceptional teacher by example and a great lawyer - one filled not only with ebullience but also with grace.

“For years after college Frank talked about the importance of global education and exchange as a tool for peaceful co-existence,” remembered Harvard’s Managing Director for Capital Giving Timothy Brown, who noted that Boas’ philanthropy began more than 50 years ago after his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1954 and then during his work as an international lawyer in Brussels in the 1960s. His family was originally from the Netherlands, but had come to the U.S. when Boas was in grade school.

Brown described Boas as “a remarkable man, a friend to all of us,” and as a person who, through his caring and philanthropy “bestowed his magic far beyond the gates of Harvard,” his alma mater.

Boas’s philanthropy began in the early 1960s when he had a flourishing law practice in Belgium, and had just been appointed to the Fulbright Commission. Initially in collaboration with his parents, he forged a partnership between the Commission and Harvard University to establish the ‘Boas Scholarships’ that bring students from the Benelux countries to Harvard for graduate work.

Thereafter Boas built a vast network of global student exchanges, including supporting academic and cultural exchanges for Hawai‘i students by partnering with the Wo Center at Punahou School after he moved to Honolulu in the 1980s.

Siegfried Ramler, Senior Education Fellow at the East-West Center, and a founder and early director of the Wo Center, explained Boas’s passion in part, noting that Boas had been deeply impressed by what he saw as a “transformation” in students who had the opportunity for educational exchanges. Daniel Kwock, Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawai‘i, said Boas also recognized the importance of sustaining institutions of learning without meddling with them, and that his philanthropy was about that, too.

“Ideas are at the center of civilization,” said Kwock, “and the university is at the center of that. He had faith in the university’s pivotal role in civilization thriving.”

But in addition to supporting educational exchanges, Boas was involved in a great deal of additional philanthropy in Hawai’i. He cared deeply about alleviating the emotional scars of war, for example, and he funded a program at the Art Museum that brought vets suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder there to learn about, discuss, and create art.

Lynne Johnson, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, said the program was so successful that veterans sometimes skipped medical appointments so as not to miss out on art therapy sessions. Johnson also noted the pivotal role Boas played in a Museum Program that brings medical students to the museum to hone their skills at observation.

“He did so many things to make sure we honor those who serve,” said Gen. David A. Bramlett, U.S. Army, Retired, and the President of the Hawai‘i Army Museum Society, of which Boas was a Board member.

“He had forever a soldier’s heart, and a heart for soldiers,” said Bramlett. “His particular interest was those who suffer wounds in war – some we see and some we don’t see.

“His touch will remain long, long into the future. He was just a great, great guy.”

Law School Dean Soifer summarized, “Frank had an old-fashioned and very gracious manner, but his generous spirit and his unquenchable curiosity kept him involved in directly addressing the problems of today and of the future. We will not see his kind again.”

The William S. Richardson School of Law has established the Frank Boas Memorial Fund to honor Mr. Boas’ exceptionally generous spirit and legacy. The fund will be used to support and continue programs that relied on his generosity, including the Frank Boas Harvard Visiting Professor, the Frank Boas Award, Pacific Asian Legal Studies programs, and the LLM program for foreign law graduates. Donations may be made by sending checks payable to the “UH Foundation,” with Frank Boas Memorial Fund (#12652204) written in the memo section to the Development Office, 2515 Dole St. Room 216, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96822-2350. To give online, please go to