Reporter helped save newspaper


POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Phil Mayer, a 35-year Star-Bulletin writer and editor who played a big role in saving the newspaper from shutdown in 2000, died Sunday of a heart attack in his Honolulu apartment. He was 81.

“;His love was the Star-Bulletin,”; said Judy Kubota, his longtime companion and caregiver.

Mayer had minor strokes for several years that affected his ability to read, Kubota said, but he subscribed to three newspapers and “;totally kept up with the news, even when he couldn't read.”; He would read the headlines and the first few paragraphs, she said. He was trying to read “;Death of a Salesman”; again, she said.

Kubota said they had just returned Aug. 10 from Oregon. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and some heart problems, but they were planning a cruise next month from New York City, she said.

“;He died sitting in a chair looking at Diamond Head, which he loved.”;

Mayer was born in Pittsburgh, attended the University of Pittsburgh, where his father was an English professor, worked in theater for a while, served in the Army at the end of World War II and was called back into service in the Korean War, Kubota said.

He was passionate about journalism, the labor movement and social issues, friends and former colleagues say. He wrote plays and loved the theater and the symphony. He enjoyed making things, such as model airplanes, mobiles and sailboats that he raced at Ala Moana Park.

“;His social consciousness was amazing,”; Kubota said. He volunteered for the suicide crisis center, served on the state Board of Education and worked with the unions to improve employee benefits, she said.

He worked at the Star-Bulletin from 1958 to 1993 and was an elected representative of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, the International Typographical Union, the Photo-Engravers, the Pressmen and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Newspaper Guild, said Mayer was “;one of the real hard workers”; in the Save Our Star-Bulletin campaign when Liberty Newspapers made a deal in 1999 with Gannett Co. to close the Star-Bulletin. “;He's probably one of the key reasons the Star-Bulletin is alive today. He's modest enough that he probably wouldn't take credit for it.”;

He said Mayer “;was the one looking for buyers and trying to line up money for the Star-Bulletin. It became a real labor of love for him.”; Strong community support led to several antitrust lawsuits that resulted in the newspaper being put up for sale and purchased by Canadian David Black.

Roy Kruse, former Newspaper Guild administrative officer, said Mayer was the union's vice president and “;really my right hand”; in early stages of negotiations for the joint operation of the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser in 1962.

“;He was the pillar of the guild for years,”; Kruse said. “;I will miss him because he was so loyal and such a good newspaper person.”;

David Shapiro, former Star-Bulletin managing editor, said, “;I had a lot of respect for Phil, both as a journalist and a person.”;

He said Mayer befriended him and took him to baseball games when he arrived in Honolulu from the Hilo bureau.

“;He was always talking about journalism. I really learned a lot from the guy. In his day he was one of the best writers I knew in terms of putting life in his stories. He was very meticulous in thinking about what he wrote.”;

Mayer also had “;a committed passion for the labor movement,”; he said. The walls in his house “;were just covered with all this labor memorabilia,”; Shapiro said.

“;He played a bigger role than people give him credit for in the Star-Bulletin movement involving the union. ... He was an intimate of some of the most important people in shaping Hawaii,”; Shapiro added, mentioning former Gov. John Burns and ILWU Hawaii Regional Leader Jack Hall.

Mayer also was “;a well-respected”; drama critic, said W. Dennis Carroll, professor and chairman of the University of Hawaii Department of Theatre and Dance and artistic director of Kumu Kahua Theatre.

He took play-writing classes, wrote plays and “;was very knowledgeable, “; Carroll said. “;He was especially interested in American theater and great American playwrights. He frequently went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and traveled widely.”;

Survivors include a sister, Jane Wolper of New Britain, Pa., and a brother, Jim Mayer of Sarasota, Fla.

Services will be private, and Mayer's ashes will be scattered off Waikiki.

Contributions may be made to Kumu Kahua Theatre or the Honolulu Symphony.