Isle writer loved to tackle controversy
ROBERT REES / 1938-2005
Every Saturday morning for more than two years, Republican state Sen. Fred Hemmings and left-wing political pundit Robert Rees would meet outside Kalapawai Market in Lanikai for coffee, a bit of heated discussion and a lot of good-natured teasing.
"I got to see the human side of him," said Hemmings, who first met Rees in 1991. "Bob and I did not share much in common politically. But I hope people remember that he was a champion and a role model for free and open debate, that he, more than anybody else in this state, defended the First Amendment right to free speech."
Rees, a well-known Hawaii freelance writer, died Tuesday at his Kailua home. He was 67 and had been battling cancer for a year.
Rees moderated -- and contributed to -- political discussions on local television and radio talk shows, as well as in the classroom, as an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii.
Rees was born in San Diego and attended Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a master's degree. He also met his wife, Keene, in California. They were married in 1961.
In 1986, after a 20-year stint as an advertising executive in New York, Rees moved to Hawaii with his family and started teaching as an American-studies professor at UH. He also moderated a television show on Hawaii politics, called "Island Issues," and wrote columns for Hawaii publications, including the Honolulu Weekly.
Rees later went on to host "Counterpoint" on public access television and Hawaii Public Radio's "Talk of the Islands."
"He liked stirring things up and supporting causes that he approved of," said Keene Rees, adding that her husband's "pet" was civil liberties and his passion was taking up controversial issues.
In 2003 the freelance writer stepped further into the limelight after he sued city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle with the American Civil Liberties Union for using public funds to campaign for the passage of a ballot question. The ACLU and Rees lost the suit.
Besides his wife, Rees is survived by son Kendall of Dallas and daughter Liz of Honolulu. There will be no funeral service.
Rees' ashes will be scattered at sea off Lanikai.