JOSEPH RUIZ GARCIA JR. / 1915-2006
Legislator won friends for life
Joseph Ruiz "Hukilepo Joe" Garcia Jr., a longtime Republican legislator and sugar company official, died Friday in Hilo. He was 90.
His lifelong friend, Waichi Ouye, remembered Garcia as an "old-time politician" in the best sense, "open-minded, friendly, willing to help."
The two became friends while attending a Future Farmers of America convention in Kansas City, Mo., in 1933.
After attending the University of California-Davis, where the 130-pound Garcia competed in track and football, he worked at Pioneer Mill on Maui, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association in Hilo, and then Hakalau Sugar, where he became Ouye's boss.
Born in Keahua, Maui, in 1915 to Spanish immigrant parents, Garcia used keen observations of Hawaii's people to win friends throughout his life.
His first job at age 9, working summers at Pioneer Mill, was to "hukilepo," literally to pick up dirt, weeding between rows of cane.
Using the identity "Hukilepo Joe," he wrote a humor column in the Hilo Tribune-Herald in the 1940s. Master of ceremonies at political events, weddings, reunions and funerals, often speaking in pidgin, he became widely known.
His ability to get people laughing about each other's ethnicity was the key to his success, said former C. Brewer lobbyist and Big Island Mayor Bruce McCall.
"He had all the accents down pat," McCall said.
He was proud of his own Spanish ancestry, once speaking to the Puerto Rican legislature in Spanish, and occasionally referring to his not-too-distant relative, the painter Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
His popularity led him to 12 terms in the territorial and later state Legislatures, from 1948 to 1974 (with an absence of one term), followed by four years on the Hawaii County Council, 1976-80. That was despite being a Republican in a heavily union district, former Mayor Steve Yamashiro noted.
He never held a political fundraiser and returned all contributions of more than a few dollars, a family statement said.
Garcia is survived by his wife, the former Ivy Toledo; sons William, Robert and Gregory; seven grandchildren; and sister Frances Radford.
Wake is 5 to 9 p.m. June 2 at Dodo Mortuary. Mass is at 10 a.m. June 3 at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Honomu. Burial to follow at Homelani Cemetery.