Obama's grandmother blazed trail

Dunham used to love playing bridge six days a week at friends' homes and at the community center near Waikiki, but she has had to slow down, Soetoro-Ng said.

Like her brother, Soetoro-Ng refers to Dunham as "Toot" — short for "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandparent.

"Toot's routine mostly involves staying in her apartment," Soetoro-Ng said. "We take her out to get fresh air at sunset."

Dunham still finds pleasures inside her apartment, Soetoro-Ng said, "listening to books on tape and watching her grandson on CNN every day."

Most of Dunham's close friends who knew her best are dead, Soetoro-Ng said. Several current and former Bank of Hawaii executives remember her as a tough boss with a soft side for those willing to work hard.

"The first day I met her, I was totally scared," Ching said. "She was the Grande Dame of escrow who started the local escrow association. I was just a trainee who didn't know anything about escrow whatsoever. But she gave me a file and said, 'You're a college grad. Here, close this.' You don't know how to swim, and she throws you in, and you either sink or swim."

Alton Kuioka started at the Bank of Hawaii in 1969 as a 26-year-old management trainee in the loan department. He admitted feeling pressure from Dunham's tough style.

"I was afraid of her," said Kuioka, who is now the bank's vice chairman. "She definitely intimidated me. If you were new and still learning, she was like a drill sergeant."

Nakaso reports for The Honolulu Advertiser. Contributing: Kathy Kiely.

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