Why Maui Will Never Be The Same
Wednesday - December 20, 2006
They held a memorial service for Pundy Yokouchi a couple of Sundays ago. It was at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, the state-of-the-art facility that Pundy - the longtime Maui Democrat, developer and philanthropist - had been so instrumental in building.
I’m not sure who wasn’t at the service. Sen. Dan Akaka and wife Millie were there, so too former Gov. John Waihee, member-of-Congress elect Mazie Hirono, and - most important to Pundy, I’m sure - what seemed an entire generation of Mauians.
It took a 90-minute wait to express condolences to the Yokouchi family: Pundy’s wife, Shirley, three daughters and a son. The visitation line snaked around the arts center grounds, doubled-back on itself, then doubled back again - and again.
Everyone waited patiently, visiting with friends and accepting the water offered by hostesses to mitigate the effects of the morning sun. I was struck by the old-timers, in their 70s and 80s, who waited so stoically to say goodbye to their friend of many years.
Art Vento of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center said what I’m sure was on the minds of many: “A Maui without Pundy seems incomprehensible.”
Indeed, it does. Pundy Yokouchi represented a dying breed of Islanders, men and women who came to embody a place, who so invested themselves in it and so championed its people that they became - in that hackneyed phrase - legends in their own time.
Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi is another example of the type. For more than a quarter century, Fasi claimed Honolulu Hale as his own. He marked his city with TheBus and its senior bus pass, satellite city halls, gardens on excess city property.
Every two years for three decades, in running for either the mayoralty or the governorship, Fasi - with nary a trace of humility - advertised his accomplishments to us all.
And Fasi’s populism, his identification with the common man, made him our mayor, even among those of us who didn’t always vote for him.
Pundy, on the other hand, never ran for public office on Maui or anywhere else. He loved politics, first in the early 1950s as a supporter of fellow Mauians Nadao Yoshinago and Elmer Cravalho, by the mid-‘50s as a dedicated supporter of John A. Burns. As a loyal Burns man, Pundy helped deliver Maui to his hero in Burns’ two successful runs for delegate-to-Congress and four successful candidacies for governor.
Burns saw in Pundy something more than a vote-gatherer. Brought up to work in his father’s bakery, Pundy left the family business for real estate. His education had stopped at high school, but Pundy loved the arts - all of them. And his good taste was evident in his office furnishings, his home, his clothes, his demeanor - everything about him.
So Burns appointed this Maui son of plantation parents the first chair of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, and Pundy made the Foundation prosper and the state more beautiful. Said Gov. Burns’s son Jim at Pundy’s memorial, “Pundy was a high class common man.”
Though Pundy gave and gave to a laundry list of Maui charities, his greatest achievement was the construction of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. The initial estimate for the facility was $32 million, an astronomical amount for a community the size of Maui.
But not for a community with someone like Pundy in its midst. “He was an unstoppable force,” says Art Vento. “Pundy could move unmovable objects. He was our sensei. Mostly he just listened to us - and answered with zen-like silence. But he always knew how to put the right elements together.”
Mark Whiting came to Hawaii to work for Alexander and Baldwin on Maui. He found himself taken under Pundy’s protective wing. “He was my godfather,” said Whiting at the memorial service. “He had this enduring humility, this total lack of prejudice.”
I met Pundy in the mid-‘70s while working on something called the Burns Oral History Project. I was young, ignorant of Hawaii and its mores, full of swaggering newly minted Ph.D. arrogance. I lugged my reel-to-reel tape recorder to Wailuku and interviewed Pundy for more than three hours about Burns. Pundy treated me with great patience and a “total lack of prejudice.”
As he would for the next 30 years. He talked to me about Mayor Cravalho and Patsy Mink, Mayors Hannibal Tavares and Linda Lingle; whenever I had an assignment that had to do with Maui, Pundy gave me his time and his insight. He never said no.
To everyone, from family to business associate to humblest citizen, Pundy listened “with genuine interest,” in the words of grandson Jamieson Suriyakam. “He didn’t give advice. But he would frequently ask me what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know. Now I do. I want to live life just as he did.”
If we all lived like Pundy, our Island communities would be richer, fuller, more fair.
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