There are things we choose to remember about a man once he is laid to rest. However, in some ways, Carl Heine was more than a man – he was a piece of Marshall Islands history. The path that he chose placed him on the frontlines of change, just as the face of RMI began to transform dramatically. Among the many positions he’s held in his career, Carl played a pivotal role in numerous political structures: the Congress of Micronesia, the Political Status Commission, the Marshall Islands Constitutional Convention, the First to the Eighth Nitijela, and an Ambassador to the United Nations and the people’s Republic of China. He was also the first, and so far only, published Marshallese with his book, Micronesia at the Crossroads. His career and achievements have woven him into the fabric of Marshallese memory while his book and his writing have carved a permanent seat in the elite world of Pacific scholars and politicians.
Carl Heine began with humble roots – the first son of Reverend Bourne and Kathy Heine, born on Jaluit atoll. His brothers and sisters vividly remember summer days and hours of making copra beneath the hot sun – all to pay for his schooling in San Diego. Carl was of the early generation of Marshallese who ventured into the world before there was an Arkansas or Oregon community of Marshallese to support him. He was of the few brave rimajol who traveled into an unknown landscape, lonely ambassadors of their islands, representing their country and culture in a sea of American people. And yet, he not only survived – he thrived. His brothers and sisters remember his letters – train trips, Bible studies, political research, and wrestling championships. When he came back, he stood as an example to his nine younger siblings – a beacon of what could be possible, what could be achieved. He left his islands a young boy – he came back a ferociously motivated young man.
Ferocious is the key word. Carl was many things – but fearful was not one of them. He spoke his mind, blunt, sharp, and to the point. During a time when the majority was clamoring to separate from the rest of Micronesia, Carl was a vocal representative of the minority voting to stay. He took a stand on many issues, regardless of their popularity. He spoke for what he believed in.
But our family remembers more than his career. We remember him as a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a father, and as a grandfather. His sons remember his work ethic, the same work ethic he instilled in them. They remember his passion for education, and his drive for perfection. They remember snow fights, tennis matches, afternoon swimming, birthday parties, and early Christmas mornings.
We share this with you not only because an important and beloved family member has passed – we share this because we are aware that Carl was one of those Marshallese men who belonged not only to our family, but who belonged to our people, and to the historical fabric of our country. This past weekend, we buried a family member who was more than a man – we buried a legacy.
—I wrote this on behalf of my family after my Uncle Lan passed away this April . It was printed at Yokwe.net and also in the Marshall Islands Journal.