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Joanna Thompson remembered for sharing aloha with everyone, working with 4 BYUH presidents and teaching life lessons through Scrabble

A older couple sits on  bench with the ocean and rocky shoreline behind them. The woman is wearing  white muumuu and the man a grey suit, and a white shirt and tie.
Joanna Thompson and her husband, Norman, had a love story for the ages, say family members. This photo of them was taken at Laie Point.

Longtime BYU-Hawaii administrative assistant to four university presidents, Joanna Kaimalino Lua Thompson was remembered for her aloha, service, intellect and talents by her large extended family and friends on Saturday, July 16.

Dressed in white and wearing accents of red in their ties and leis, her family filled more than half of the chapel benches in the Laie Hawaii Stake Center where her services were held. Born in Honolulu on April, 22, 1939, Thompson passed aways in Laie on June 18, 2022. She was 83.

Former BYU-Hawaii President Eric Shumway said in an email, he remembers Thompson as trustworthy, having a great sense of humor, and having a “perfect, beautiful smile.” He was the last president she worked with before she retired. Thompson also worked with past BYUH presidents, Dan Andersen, J. Elliot Cameron and Alton Wade.

“Joanna was a leader in her own right and had firm opinions about things that would maintain the dignity of the university,” Shumway continued. “Her own experience in being on the frontline with three different university presidents before me was a great blessing to me and the school. She had a great sense of history regarding the founding of the school, and her understanding of the prophetic destiny of the school made her the perfect executive assistant to me.”

Shumway said, “I knew that people who came to the President's office would be treated with respect and kindness,” he said. “She would always go the extra mile…. A thousand alohas to her family.”

I knew that people who came to the President's office would be treated with respect and kindness. She would always go the extra mile…. A thousand alohas to her family.
Former BYUH President Eric Shumway

The first family member to speak at Thompson’s service was her oldest daughter, Tammy “Lokelani” Thompson-Spencer. She spoke first about moving back to Laie three years ago to help care for her mom and dad. Norman Fua’alii Thompson Sr., Joanna’s beloved husband and her father, passed away last year. He too was a BYUH retiree.

“My mom was my hero,” Thompson-Spencer said. Commenting on with her mother’s wit, smile, love, and intelligence, she said her mom was “the well-rounded package any eternal companion would want.”

She spoke of the love and devotion her parents had for each other throughout their lives and how their relationship was an example to all who knew them. She added her mother had a special radar to know when someone was in trouble and would show up to help them.

Thompson-Spencer also shared at her mother’s passing, she said she was “gifted with a vision” of seeing two of her sisters, who had died before their mother, running to greet their mom. She said it was a confirmation to her that the plan of salvation is real, the gospel of Jesus Christ is real, and she will be able to one day share in that reunion and be part of her forever family.

A family groups up for a photo. Parents are seated in chairs with our adult children standing behind them and one in front of them kneeling.
A Thompson family photo.

With six children, 26 grandchildren, 36 great grandchildren, and 9 great, great grandchildren, during Thompson’s service family members shared stories of her life and sang some of her favorite songs.

Joanna Thompson’s Lua siblings started off the service by singing along with the whole family, “Mi Casa, Su Casa,” where part of the lyrics say:

“My home is your home
I'll give you love
Warm and tender

“My house is nothing more
Than windows and a door
And a roof that will
Keep out the rain

“The day you say you're mine
My humble house will shine
Just like a castle in Spain”

Her grandchildren and their cousins, including the oldest grandchild, Daniel “Kaimana” Chee, sang the song, “Heirloom,” that says:

“Up in the attic,
Down on my knees.
Lifetimes of boxes,
Timeless to me.

“Letters and photographs,
Yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter,
Some bringing tears.

“Time never changes,
The memories, the faces
Of loved ones, who bring to me,
All that I come from,
And all that I live for,

And all that I'm going to be.
My precious family
Is more than an heirloom to me.”

Chee also spoke at the service sharing his memories of learning to play Scrabble with his grandmother and comparing it to the way people learn throughout their lives.

He said learning to master the game began when he was 8, and his grandma had him observe first how she and all the aunties from the ward played the word game. He said through this experience, he learned the benefits of observation before jumping into something.

Then he said he had to learn how to keep score because the value of each word is in relation to where it is placed on the game board. For example, the word “love” can be worth 7 points, but in the right spot, the best play of that word can bring 21 points. Chee said it is the same with people’s talents and finding the right spot to use them. Sometimes people have to be moved around to serve others better, he said.

Next his grandma gave him a Scrabble word book for his 9th birthday that he said he was thrilled to get. Even though it looked like a dictionary to him, she opened the book to a page that listed 90 two-letter words that were legal to use in Scrabble. She told him he had to learn all 90 words before he could start playing with her, and so he learned them.

He explained while a seven-letter word earns Scrabble players 50 additional points, it is rare to be able to play a seven-letter word. However, a game is often won by using many of the two-letter words. He compared using this skill to all the small acts of kindness people can do daily that add up to making a big difference in their lives and the lives of those around them.

Then she taught him that sometimes when playing Scrabble, you need to replace all your tiles because in the long run, it can often set you up for success, he said. Chee explained in life, people need to be willing to rethink what they are doing and make different decisions to be more successful.

Speaking of his grandmother, he said at her core, she was a kind person and that kindness is unrated in the world today. He concluded his comments by informing the audience in the new sixth edition of the Scrabble dictionary, there are 17 more two-letter words, and by the next game he plays with her, she will have time to learn them all.

An older married couple stands together for a photo with trees in the background. He is wearing a brown, white and blue aloha shirt and she is wearing a blue and white muumuu.
Joanna and Norman Thompson were among the pillars of the Laie community, says speakers at Joanna's funeral service.

Thompson’s great grandchildren sang “I Have a Family Here on Earth,” and granddaughter Kaiponoheaonakupuna Taula spoke following the song. She talked about her grandmother’s life and the love their grandfather had for her. She said her grandma had the aloha spirit and welcomed everyone into her home and nurtured and cared for them.

“She was the biggest role model to me,” said Taula.

Great granddaughter Teha Keama also spoke saying her great grandmother always made her feel special and that her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren are what brought her joy.

Thompson’s son, Niel, also talked at the service shared memories of his mom and her ability to be compassionate and forgiving. He said when he made a mistake, his mom “never looked at it as a mistake. She would say it was just a bad choice.” He added when he had children of his own, he began to learn for himself what compassion is all about.

He compared his mom and dad to the massive sequoia trees that grow in Northern California that his mother-in-law took him to see and told him the trees are like titans. Merriam-Webster Dictionary says titan means people or things of very great strength, intellect, or importance. He said his parents are among the trees or titans of Laie.

Niel Thompson explained that when a titan or tree falls, others must fill in where they stood. He told those at the service, “You need to fill in the spots and do what they did. That’s how a legacy begins.”

David Fonoimoana, a member of the Laie 2nd Ward bishopric, conducted Thompson’s service and agreed with Niel Thompson that his parents were pillars in the community. Fonoimoana said he learned in the Thompsons’ yard how to build and use an imu, or underground oven. Then on his mission, he was able to share the Hawaiian culture with the people in one of his mission areas by using the skills and knowledge he learned in the Thompsons’ yard in Laie to put on a luau.

Laie Hawaii Stake President Steven Nawahine said he wasn’t supposed to be at Thompson’s service, but while driving from the temple into town for another Church meeting, he felt inspired to turn around and come back for the service. He also talked about how the Thompsons are like trees or pillars in the community who will never be forgotten because of how they lived.

Nawahine said because Heavenly Father loves all his children on earth, he sent Jesus Christ to come and show people the way to live and return to God through his gospel, atonement and resurrection. He said people come to earth to live their very best lives and hope their children will live better lives then they did.

“It is the eternal plan of happiness,” said Nawahine. “I bear testimony we can do it.” He added while coming together for Joanna Thompson’s service was a bittersweet time, it was also where family and friends could reconnect and rejoice together. “That’s what it will be like when we see our families on the other side,” said Nawahine.

Another son, Norman “Juna” Thompson Jr., shared his mom “was my best friend.” A local entertainer, he said he would call his mom every time just before going on stage. He said she would always encourage him and tell him to take his passion and “go out and get it.” He sang a local song called “Mama, My Mama,” that he said was his dad’s favorite song for his mom. Some of the lyrics are:

“She stares at the pictures
Of a lifetime of memories
Could she had known when we were grown
That the child who made her sad
Would be the one to make her glad.

“Well it’s me Ma, and I’m here to tell you
Before time steals you from me.
Wish I could change the suffering and pain.
But I guess I always knew
That my best friend was you….

“Mama, my mama, I love you
Don’t you cry no more, dry your eyes for sure.
Mama, my mama, I love you.”