03231_000_028Wherever life takes them, the DuPonts spread the warmth of “home.”
Life just doesn’t ever seem to slow down for the DuPonts. During the early days of his career in the U.S. Air Force, Bert was jetting all over the world on assignments, sometimes taking Amanda and their two sons with him. Later, as chief of the U.S. Air Force mission in Colombia, he was the one the president of the country called for whenever there was a lost plane or a burning skyscraper or a devastating landslide. Now, retired from the air force, the DuPonts are back in their native Hawaii—but Bert still flies a Lear jet and, as a counselor in the mission presidency, he’s still in demand as a speaker and leader.
Even though assignments have taken them far from home many times, Holbrook (“Bert”) and Amanda (A-mahn-da) have never been anywhere but “home.” A remarkable blending of faith, heritage, and opportunity has blessed their efforts to make friends, find “family,” and serve the Lord wherever they go.
Their comfortable home overlooks the city of Honolulu; both were born and reared on the island of Oahu. Luminous brown eyes and smooth tan skin hint at mixed ancestry: his grandparents were Portuguese, Hawaiian, and English; her father was Chinese, her mother Hawaiian and German. (“Her maiden name was Wong,” Bert says, chuckling. “I admit it; I married the Wong girl!”)
As a child, Bert attended Primary, but he wasn’t baptized until he was twelve because his nonmember father refused to give permission earlier. But four months later, Bert enrolled in a military boarding school, complete with a nondenominational Protestant church, and the LDS church’s influence “just started fading away.”
Amanda was not LDS when she and Bert were married. By that time, Bert had earned his wings and commission in the air force and Amanda had earned a degree in secondary education from the University of Hawaii. Bert had become somewhat active during his aviation cadet training, but, he says, “after our marriage, my life started to change because of Amanda. We had been attending church, but I think the Lord felt it was time we got serious!”
Bert was sent to Greenland on an assignment, and Amanda stayed in Kansas with Bert’s cousin’s family—active Church members. They and the missionaries began encouraging Amanda to schedule her baptism for an upcoming date. Amanda didn’t like being pushed, and she complained to Bert about it in a letter. “I didn’t think they should know when I was going to be ready,” she says. But in the next week’s letter, she wrote: “I can’t wait any longer. I’m being baptized Saturday.”
“They did know,” smiles Amanda. “I was ready.” Following Amanda’s conversion, Bert began to progress in the Church. He was ordained a priest, then an elder, and they were soon sealed in the temple. Still, “I had some hang-ups about the Church,” Bert remembers, “and one of them concerned modern prophets.” But he decided to take it on faith until he had a further witness. In time, Bert would receive that testimony in a very personal way—from a prophet of God himself.
Along with continuing spiritual growth came additional Church responsibilities, the adoption of two sons, and rapid professional advancement—including assignments in far-flung parts of the world. A lieutenant colonel in the air force, Bert was respected for his integrity, willingness to work, and ability to get the job done. His reputation won him an assignment to go to Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1970s as adviser to that country’s air force—and he and Amanda were off to Washington, D.C., where he took an intensive six-month course in Spanish language and culture.
Then came a call from the Pentagon, informing Bert that he was needed more in Bogotá, Colombia, than in Montevideo. But he refused the assignment because he had heard some negative things about Colombia. “Nothing they could say would change my mind. Then one day I had a call from a navy commander at the Pentagon. I tried to explain to him that I was a member of the Church and didn’t want to go to Colombia. (I had checked the directory and hadn’t seen any Church listings in that country.) It turned out that this man was senior president of the seventies in his stake. ‘Brother DuPont,’ he said, ‘have you ever thought that maybe the Lord has a job for you to do in Colombia?’ That was it. I got on the phone, called my wife, and we decided to go.”
Once in Colombia, the DuPonts found that the Lord did indeed have a job for them—several jobs, in fact. Bert was called to serve on the mission board, in the district presidency, and twice as branch president. Amanda, naturally gregarious and warmly interested in her Colombian sisters, learned the language and was called to assume leadership responsibilities in the mission, district, and branch Relief Society and Young Women organizations.
The Lord also blessed Bert in his military assignment. As chief of the U.S. Air Force mission, Bert did much to improve strained relations between Colombia and the U.S. military. In addition to performing the normal requirements, he involved himself in other areas that brought him favorable attention from top-ranking officials. During an emergency, he saved an ailing Colombian military aircraft and the lives of its entire crew. He assisted the aerial efforts that rescued five hundred people from the roof of a burning skyscraper in downtown Bogotá. Contributing countless hours to rescue missions, he located a number of planes that had crashed in Colombia’s rugged mountains; once he was almost killed trying to recover bodies from a wreckage on a 12,500-foot peak.
When a landslide completely isolated thousands of acres of rice from the only available harvesting equipment, Colombia’s president asked Bert to solve the problem. Bert got on the telephone and rounded up airplanes from all over the globe. The harvesters were disassembled on one side of the landslide, flown over to the rice fields, and reassembled. Tons of rice were saved.
“Every time something went wrong,” smiles Bert, “I was called in, whether it had anything to do with my official assignment or not.” When his three-year commitment was over, the Colombian government requested that Bert be allowed to stay a fourth year—and later, a fifth. The DuPonts did stay four years, after which Colombia decorated him with highest honors.
During those years, Bert and Amanda established lifelong friendships with influential Colombians—and, as a by-product, doors were opened for the Church. For example, expiration dates for missionary visas were changed from six months to two years. And through Bert’s contacts, President Spencer W. Kimball met Colombia’s foreign minister and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. “I really feel,” muses Bert, “that we were sent to Colombia to help the Church.”
A returned missionary recalls that the DuPonts were “great role models for the Colombian Saints. They exemplified faithfulness and commitment, demonstrating what it meant to love and serve—with no class distinctions. Although they mingled in the highest social circles in the country, they felt a kinship with, and sincerely cared about, our investigators and new members, some of whom lived in one-room shacks with dirt floors.
“The DuPonts would sometimes accompany us when we taught the discussions. You can imagine how impressive it was to have this couple, who entertained high government officials in their home, tell our investigators that they really could get along in life without cigarettes and alcohol!”
The DuPonts’ home, a spacious estate that reflected their prestigious military status, was a much-loved gathering place for Church members. On one occasion, Bert and Amanda decided to host, in the finest tradition of Hawaiian hospitality, a full-blown luau, complete with pit-baked pig and genuine Hawaiian entertainment. “My mother is a beautiful singer,” says Bert, “and so we called my parents in Hawaii, and they agreed to come to Bogotá for a visit.” Guests were military and government officials and local Church members. But the event turned out to be much more than a transplanted Hawaiian feast. It was a new beginning.
“My dad was a good man,” reflects Bert, “but we had never been able to convince him to join the Church—even though he would often comment about the happiness Amanda and I had in our family.”
Late one night during his parents’ visit, Bert was awakened. “I was prompted,” he recalls, “to go and challenge Dad—again—to be baptized, even though he had refused many times before. I woke my wife (I always have to confer with her, because she’s got the Spirit!), told her my feelings, and she said, ‘Well, I guess you’d better go do it.’ So I went into his room—like Daniel going into the lions’ den. How could I do it again, having failed so often?”
Bert woke his father, bore testimony, issued the challenge. The response? “He put his arms around me and hugged me and cried. He had never before shed a tear as far as I knew, even though as a police officer he had been shot, stabbed, and injured many times.
“My parents attended church every Sunday, even though they couldn’t understand what was going on because everything was in Spanish. But my father could feel something. There was standing room only the day he was baptized.” Bert’s parents later served as ordinance workers in the Hawaii Temple; his father was also a sealer there.
In 1975, after Bert and Amanda had left Colombia, Bert’s own testimony of living prophets was solidly confirmed. He was asked to return to Bogotá to assist with President Spencer W. Kimball’s visit. “When he shook my hand, it was like I was being electrified! He looked into my eyes, and that was it; I knew. During home evening at the mission home, I sat next to President Kimball, and he put his arm around me. When he gave the family prayer, my whole life changed. It was a full conversion.”
Meanwhile, Amanda recalls with a smile, “Things weren’t going too well back at home. I was in a car accident; I wasn’t hurt, but the car was damaged …”
“You have to understand,” Bert interjects, “that I was a person who had to have everything just so. You didn’t touch my car, because you’d leave a fingerprint on it!”
The damage to the car worried her. “Dwight and Doug, our sons, kept saying, ‘Wait until Dad comes.’”
But something had changed. “Bert came off that airplane, and no kidding, I think he was four inches off the floor. All he could talk about was what a great experience he’d had with the prophet. He went right past the smashed fender and didn’t even see it. When I showed him, he looked at it, turned to me, and said, ‘Oh, Mom, I’m really glad you didn’t get hurt.’ Then he gave me a big hug.”
After their years in Colombia, the DuPonts were transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, where Bert served on the high council and in the stake presidency. Back home in Hawaii since 1976, Bert has served in the Hawaii Temple, on the high council, and as bishop; now he’s a member of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission presidency. Amanda, formerly the stake Relief Society president, serves in the stake Young Women presidency.
Their lives are still filled with their Hawaiian brand of love and service. For example, the DuPonts have opened their doors to five foster children—and to a host of others who needed a home, financial support for an education and for full-time missions, or a boost toward temple marriage. Bert speaks of them as “part of our family.” They currently have three extra family members in their home.
“We’re not wealthy people,” says Bert. “But what resources we do have go toward helping these kids.” For instance, while arranging for Jaime, a young Colombian friend, to live with them and go to college, they found they were $5,000 short. As Bert and Amanda discussed the problem in Bert’s office (he now flies a jet for a Hawaiian bank), the phone rang. It was his boss, who told them he had just deposited a retroactive raise—$5,000—into their bank account. “There’s Jaime’s money!” they agreed, rejoicing.
And the DuPonts reach out even further. One day as Bert was driving to work, he heard a news report about a tourist being robbed while checking into a hotel. “The report had unusual impact on Bert,” says Amanda. “He felt a strong desire to locate the tourist and extend a hand of warm ‘aloha’ to make up for what had happened.” When Bert contacted the man, he found that he was a Catholic priest from Colombia! After some persuasion, the priest accepted Bert’s offer to take him on a personal tour of the island, and the two men quickly became friends.
During the day, Bert had a strong urge to ask him the golden questions. When the priest replied that he knew nothing and wanted to learn more, “Bert immediately cancelled all other commitments,” says Amanda, “and headed for the Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center with him. They spent hours there, viewing films in Spanish and discussing basic doctrines of the Church. Then Bert gave him a Spanish Book of Mormon, with his testimony written inside.”
The BYU—Hawaii campus was their next stop. “While lunching in the campus snack bar,” Amanda says, “they heard people in the next booth conversing in Spanish and discovered that they were the LDS Latin American students we had recently had as houseguests. The priest eagerly questioned them about their feelings for the Church and what had motivated them to change their religion. These vibrant young people bore beautiful testimonies with great strength of the Spirit. That amazing day ended with this new friend in our home sharing dinner and home evening with our family—still all in Spanish.”
The next day, Bert arranged for a complimentary pass for the man to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. He called the DuPonts that evening with an exuberant report of his experience there and of his positive opinions of the Church. When Bert took him to the airport, the priest admitted that he had heard of the Church before; he had been a member of a committee that had considered a request by the Church to permit microfilming of records in Colombia. At that time the committee had voted to deny the request. He assured Bert that upon his return to Colombia, he would attempt to change that decision.
The stories go on and on. The DuPonts continue to open their arms and home to anyone who can use a warm “aloha,” a generous sampling of Amanda’s gourmet cooking, or a gentle but persuasive nudge toward righteousness.
“We love people,” says Amanda, “and the gospel gives us direction in serving and helping them wherever we can.”