Believer in Big
Isle sugar dies
Francis Morgan pulled a
community together for a $69 million
attempt to revive Hamakua Sugar
More obituariesBy Mary Adamski
FRANCIS S. Morgan's effort to keep the sugar industry alive on the Big Island failed when Hama-kua Sugar Co. was forced to begin bankruptcy proceedings in 1992.
It didn't brand him as a failure, but rather as an optimist.
"The guy had unfailing optimism. With him the cup was always full, he never felt he was dealt a bad hand," said David Heenan, Campbell Estate chairman.
Henry A. Walker Jr., retired Amfac chairman and chief executive officer, said: "He was a very upbeat guy, always looking, maybe, for a pot of gold at end of the rainbow. In the best sense, he believed that there is something good out there, 'I think we can do this if we pull together.'
"I think of Frannie as the last man standing in sugar, by himself at least."
Morgan died Sunday in Straub Hospital at the age of 80. He was president of Kualoa Ranch, where his great-great-grandfather, Dr. Gerrit Judd, started a cattle-raising operation in the mid-1800s. The Windward Oahu ranch has been expanded into an action tourism destination, concert and group picnic site and movie set.
"He spent his entire life working," said son John Morgan, Kua-loa Ranch manager. "Beginning at 12 years old, he rode for his entire life at the ranch, until a couple years ago when he became physically unable.
"His interests were Kualoa Ranch, work and family."
Morgan was 64, ready to retire as group vice president for agriculture after nearly 40 years with Theo H. Davies and Co., when the Hong Kong-owned company decided to sell Hamakua Sugar, the second largest plantation in the islands, at a time when the sugar market was shrinking.
He brought family and associates together to pay $69 million for the operation, which included 35,000 acres and two sugar mills and provided jobs for more than 800 people.
"I tried to talk him out of it," Walker said. "He made a stand ... he gave it everything he had."
Takashi Domingo, former Ha-waii County councilman and ex-ILWU union official, said: "He told us that his intent was (for the plantation) to become more efficient, it would do something for all the community. Unfortunately things got beyond his control, but he bought time for us. I'm grateful for that, I have a lot of respect for him, he was a man of sincerity."
"He was a visionary, he was curious, and he was a bit of a dreamer," said Heenan, former Theo Davies chairman and chief executive. "He came very close, within six to 12 months, to making it. He ran out of time because of the economic downturn in Asia and (faded) prospects of selling some blocks of land that would have been the margin of safety to keep it afloat."
Although Morgan was involved in the plantation aspects of Theo Davies, "he was not simply an agriculture guy," Heenan said. "He had a very far-reaching mind, he was never really given credit for that.
"It was foremost in his mind to leave these islands better than he found them," Heenan said.
Morgan attended Hanahauoli School and Punahou School and graduated from Stanford University. He served as a Navy lieutenant in the Pacific during World War II.
He headed the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association for many years and served on the board of directors of St. Francis Medical Center, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Hanahauoli School.
He is survived by his wife, Margo; sons David and John; daughter Patricia Black; and six grandchildren.
Services will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at Punahou School's Thurston Chapel. Friends may call after 2:30 p.m.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Hanahauoli School or to charity.