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Saturday, August 24, 2002



O.A. Ozzie Bushnell / Isle Author

Writer Bushnell’s work
brought ordinary
islanders to life

See also: Obituaries


By Craig Gima
cgima@starbulletin.com

O.A. Ozzie Bushnell, a novelist who used his passion for Hawaiian history and culture and his training as a scientist to write award-winning stories about old Hawaii, died Wednesday at home. He was 89.

Born in Kakaako, Bushnell was one of the first authors from Hawaii to write about the islands. His novels influenced many of today's local writers.

"He broke ground in taking Hawaiian lives seriously and not treating them as some romantic bit of tinsel," said writer and historian Bob Dye.

His first novel, "The Return of Lono," about the last voyage of Capt. James Cook, was published in 1956. It won the Atlantic Monthly's fiction award. He wrote four other novels: "Molokai," about the people banished to the leper colony in Kalaupapa; "Ka'a'awa," about the changing Hawaii of the 1850s; and "Stone of Kannon" and its sequel, "Water of Life," about the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

"Nobody really looked at the common person before he started writing his novels on Hawaii," said William Hamilton, director of the University of Hawaii Press.

How disease affected native Hawaiians was a theme in many of Bushnell's writings, reflecting his training as a microbiologist.

His last book, "The Gifts of Civilization: Germs and Genocide in Hawaii," was published in 1993. It was the result of years of study and detailed how disease brought by contact with Europeans decimated the native Hawaiian population.

Bushnell was student body president as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii. He went to work in the Territorial Department of Health in 1940, joined the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and became a professor at UH after the war.

"Once back in Hawaii, I felt established again," Bushnell said in a 1979 Star-Bulletin interview. "My feet were on the ground. My roots all became very important. There is something different about being in Hawaii. It's small enough so you can see how people are affected by the land and can affect it."

He began writing while at UH and converted an 8-square-foot piano crate into a writing studio with 2,000 books lining the walls, plus a bed, desk and typewriter.

Dye said that because of Bushnell's research on his novel "Molokai," he became involved in the effort to have Father Damien beatified and was part of the delegation that made a presentation on Damien to the pope.

He is also survived by sons Andrew and Philip, daughter Mahealani, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

No services are planned, at Bushnell's request. Donations are suggested in his name to the University of Hawaii Foundation for the UH Medical School.



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