WWII vet helped craft early social legislation
John T. Ushijima / Former Senate President
Former state Senate President John T. Ushijima, 82, an architect of legislation weaving the social fabric of Hawaii, died Sunday at Hilo Hospital.
"There is so much that can be said about him. He was one of the legislative architects of modern Hawaii," said former Big Island Rep. Wayne Metcalf.
Ushijima represented the Big Island in the Senate from 1959 to 1982, including four years as Senate president.
Ushijima was a deep-voiced but quiet veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II who came back to Hilo after getting a law degree from George Washington University.
Friends recall Ushijima was rarely without a cigar, which, if he could not smoke, would stay unlit in his hand.
"His doctors finally made him give up those cigars," Metcalf recalled.
Ushijima's work, Metcalf said, touched on much of the social legislation that passed in Hawaii in the first 15 years after Hawaii became a state in 1959.
"He was instrumental in the prepaid health legislation, equal rights and nondiscrimination. John's fingerprints were on all of it," Metcalf said.
Metcalf recalls that Ushijima helped him as a beginning University of Hawaii-Hilo college student and then hired him as a legislative assistant.
"He was a paradoxical politician. He was just indifferent to public acclaim; he just did his work.
"He wasn't an easy guy to get to know. He had an implacable exterior, but he was passionate about social justice," Metcalf said.
Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa) said yesterday that Ushijima was one of the "Big Island's stalwarts."
"He was just an incredible guy for the Big Island. ... He got a lot of younger people into political office. I remember he supported me when I first ran for the County Council," Inouye said.
After leaving office in 1982, Ushijima served two terms on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
He is survived by wife Margaret.
Funeral services will be held Monday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, with private burial services to follow on Tuesday.