In memory: CSU donor and equine health supporter Princess Abigail Kawananakoa

McIlwraith and Kawananakoa

University Distinguished Professor Wayne McIlwraith, left, and Princess Abigail Kawananakoa have been friends for 35 years.

Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa – a prominent donor to Colorado State University, a celebrated breeder of racing American Quarter Horses and descendant of the Hawaiian royal family – passed away on Dec. 11. She was 96.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of CSU’s Orthopaedic Research Center, Kawananakoa donated $20 million to help fund the construction of CSU’s C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute in 2017.

CSU conferred an honorary doctorate to her in May 2016, in recognition of her dedication to global equine health and to cultural preservation in Hawaii. Since she was unable to attend that commencement ceremony, McIlwraith – a University Distinguished Professor, founding director of the Orthopaedic Research Center and longtime friend of Kawananakoa – accepted it on her behalf.

Wayne McIlwraith and Princess Abigail Kawananakoa
McIlwraith and Kawananakoa

‘Transformed our world’

“Princess Abigail Kawananakoa transformed our world at Colorado State University through her relationship with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith and her support of equine sports medicine and our orthopaedic research programs,” said CSU Interim President Rick Miranda. “She will be deeply missed, but importantly, Princess Kawananakoa will continue to make a difference in our lives because of her generosity to Colorado State University as well as her beloved Hawaii. Through her support of Colorado State’s research in the health of horses, and our mutual commitment to translational medicine to advance human health, the Princess’s work carries on, even in her absence.”

“I have had a 35-year, close relationship with Abigail and would characterize it as a true partnership between two friends who always wanted to make all things better for the horse,” McIlwraith said. “She was always looking for a better solution for some of the most pressing issues in equine and human health.”

Passion for Hawaii, horses

Throughout her life, Princess Abigail directed her energy and philanthropic resources toward the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian language, culture and history. She was also a lifelong devotee of horses, and as a young woman was a talented equestrian. That passion connected Princess Abigail to CSU and inspired her to promote research and teaching in equine musculoskeletal health.

“Our relationship commenced with my performing arthroscopic surgery on her horses, including All American Futurity winner A Classic Dash and Los Alamitos $2 million winner Evening Snow, but quickly progressed to how we could do things better to prevent injury through early diagnosis of disease and early treatment to achieve optimal equine musculoskeletal health,” McIlwraith said.

In 2007, she donated $3 million to create the Abigail K. Kawananakoa University Chair in Equine Musculoskeletal Integrative Therapies.

Kawananakoa's mare Significant Heart
Princess Abigail’s mare Significant Heart was the American Quarter Horse Association 2014 National Champion Aged Mare. Photo: Los Alamitos Race Course.

Gift added McIlwraith’s name to TMI

“She also quickly foresaw the benefit of CSU’s work on horses being translational to humans and provided a critical matching gift that allowed CSU to build the Translational Medicine Institute to achieve that vision,” he added. “This gift provided her naming rights to the building, and it is a reflection of her humbleness that she requested that my name be on the building rather than hers.”

Princess Abigail was named AQHA Champion Owner in 1994 and 1995, based in part on race victories, and continued to reign as one of the sport’s top owners and breeders. In 2012, she was honored by the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association for major contributions to the sport and in 2018 was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

Support for Hawaiian culture

In addition, she provided philanthropic support to revive and honor Hawaiian history and culture, including native language, literature, music and hula. Her philanthropy extended to Hawaiian language immersion schools and to preservation of native artifacts. Princess Abigail led the restoration of Iolani Palace, the grand structure in downtown Honolulu built by her great granduncle, King David Kalakaua. He was the last king of Hawaii before the island nation was annexed to the United States in 1898.

“She took great pride in supporting what we have achieved here at CSU because she was always looking into the future, and it fit with her priority of helping people as well as horses, particularly the people of Hawaii,” McIlwraith said. “She particularly loved the relationship with CSU, being the veterinary college that trained many Hawaiian veterinary students (over 200 Hawaiian veterinarians received their DVM degree from CSU). Her intellect and generosity were unparalleled, and she will be greatly missed.”

Coleman Cornelius contributed to this report.