Nancy Quinn: 1919-2014

Posted On July 3rd, 2014 -

Governor’s wife was devoted, loving first lady
She juggled official and domestic duties while caring for the couple’s seven kids

By Timothy Hurley

Nancy Quinn was a gracious first lady who skillfully juggled the demands of a large family with the challenging social schedule of the first elected governor of Hawaii.

“She never wanted the limelight,” recalled businessman Rick Humphreys, who lived with Gov. William Quinn’s family for a time as a child. “She was satisfied to be by his side. She was a very humble person.”

Nancy Quinn, who served as the last first lady of the territory of Hawaii from 1957 to 1959 and first first lady of the state from 1959 to 1962, died last week at the age of 95.

Nancy Ellen Witbeck was born in St. Louis in 1919 and married William Quinn there in 1942, moving to Hawaii in 1947 to work in a law office. Ten years later President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him governor of the territory.

The couple had seven children together — five before moving into the Washington Place governor’s mansion and two there.

According to the William Quinn biography “No Ordinary Man,” by Mary C. Kahulumana Richards, Nancy Quinn was a loving and insightful wife and mother, a gracious first lady who embraced a difficult official and domestic schedule in support of the governor.

“When Dad was governor, there was no budget for (both) a secretary and a nurse for the kids,” daughter Mary Kaiu­lani Quinn said.

Meanwhile there was a lot of high-profile entertaining to be done, she said, and the young first lady deftly negotiated this role at a time when she gave birth to two more children.

“We discovered it wasn’t easy raising small children there,” Nancy Quinn told the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin in 1986.

But she was pretty firm about saving Sundays for the family.

Some have said that Quinn was the first in the islands to receive word about Hawaii’s statehood. On March 30, 1959, Time magazine wrote:

“Breakfasting with island legislative leaders at his official residence one morning last week, Hawaii’s last appointed Territorial Governor, William Quinn, was interrupted by his wife. ‘I thought you might want to see this radiogram,’ said Nancy Quinn. ‘It came a few minutes ago, and Cecily (aged 4) answered the door and opened the envelope. It could be important.’ It was; from President Dwight Eisenhower had come 1) notification that he had just signed the Hawaiian statehood bill, and 2) orders directing Quinn to proceed with appropriate plans for election of state and congressional officials.”

Humphreys, president and CEO of Hawaii Receivables Management and former head of Bank of America in Hawaii, said he’ll always remember Nancy Quinn as an extremely nice and friendly person who treated everyone the same.

“I never knew a person who didn’t like her,” he said. “She was so good to the working staff. They loved her. She never presented herself as anything but normal folk.”

After leaving public office, William Quinn went on to lead Dole Pineapple, then continue his career in law — and Nancy Quinn remained his devoted wife for 64 years, taking care of her husband when he wasn’t well later in life. The former governor died in 2006 at age 87.

Services will be held in September.

Nancy Quinn is survived by daughters Cecily Quinn Affleck and Mary Kaiulani Quinn; sons William Jr., Timothy, Christopher, Greg­ory and Stephen; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Former Gov. William Quinn and his wife, Nancy, met and wed on the mainland before moving to Hawaii. The couple was married for 64 years, before William Quinn died in 2006. Nancy Quinn died last week at age 95. (Courtesy Keith Haugen / 2004)

Former Gov. William Quinn and his wife, Nancy, met and wed on the mainland before moving to Hawaii. The couple was married for 64 years, before William Quinn died in 2006. Nancy Quinn died last week at age 95. (Courtesy Keith Haugen / 2004)

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