Sunday, December 21, 2003


Local leader put
his heart into his work

Steve Hirano made international news in 1994 when a rogue elephant from a Blaisdell Center circus, for whom he was serving as publicist, charged and attacked him.

The video of Tyke the elephant tossing Hirano out of the way as he tried to hold the animal behind a fenced gate is hard to forget.

In this image taken from video, Steve Hirano tried to hold Tyke the elephant behind a fenced gate in 1994 in Kakaako as the animal went on a rampage. Hirano made international news when the elephant from a Blaisdell Center circus charged and attacked him after killing her trainer.

Hirano is also remembered as a lobbyist and public relations manager for a slew of local companies, a political strategist, and a television producer at KHON and KITV.

Hirano, 57, died Friday evening at his Hawaii Kai home, less than two months after learning that he had pancreatic cancer.

"He never wanted any accolades or honor," said Hirano's wife, Amy Hayashi, yesterday. "He did his job unflinchingly and he always gave more than he received."

Despite being injured by Tyke -- the elephant that first killed her trainer, then injured Hirano and was eventually shot to death in the 1994 incident -- Hirano fought to keep the circus coming to Honolulu. He called the accident a fluke and testified against a City Council bill to prohibit traveling exhibits, parades or circuses from having wild or exotic animals. He was also a spokesman for a Ringling Brothers Circus that came through town.

To remember his brush with the enraged animal, Hirano collected "any kind of elephant as a memento" -- figurines, pictures and photos.

"He really didn't let it (the incident) slow him down," Hayashi said.

Hirano also gave back to his community as a member of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board. Fellow board member Anthony Paresa called Hirano "the voice of reason" amidst the chaos of monthly meetings.

"He was one of the stabilizing forces of the board," Paresa said. "I tend to be more vocal, and he'd always come around and have some sort of rational compromise."

Hirano, who was on the board since 2000, resigned for medical reasons earlier this year.

As chief executive officer of public relations firm PMCI Hawaii, Hirano listed a number of large local and mainland companies as clients, including the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, Norwegian Cruise Line, Aloha Petroleum and the Hawaii Employers' Mutual Insurance Company.

Hirano was also a board member of the Hawaii International Film Festival, a member of the Filipino Cultural Center and president of the McKinley High School Foundation, which raises money for merit scholarships.

"He would just put himself into everything and yet he never sacrificed his own personal life," Hirano's wife said.

After hearing of their father's illness, Hirano's children and stepchildren took vacation time to be by his side.

"Steve was compassionate and he was caring," Hayashi said. "He was a great guy."

Besides his wife, Hirano is survived by his children James and Julie; stepchildren Ashley-Stephanie Koester, Chester Koester and Scott Hayashi; and three grandchildren.

Services are pending.


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