Neal S. "Rusty" Blaisdell was one of Honolulu's most beloved mayors. Serving during a time when the city population of 353,000 swelled to 654,000, the Republican mayor helped it become a prosperous metropolitan community.
Blaisdell was mayor from 1954 to 1968, five consecutive terms that included two when the term of office was only two years.
When he took office, Honolulu was viewed as "a small town," Blaisdell once said. But by the time he retired from politics, Blaisdell had turned it into "one of the great cities of this nation, a city that is envied and admired by people all over the world," he said.
Born in Honolulu in 1902, Blaisdell was a Hawaiian-Irish kama'aina. His father was an assistant fire chief for the city. As a teenager, he earned a reputation as an outstanding three-sport athlete at what was then called St. Louis College. He played baseball, basketball and football, and is credited with organizing the school's first football team. After college, Blaisdell briefly played professional baseball before returning to Hawai'i to coach high school sports.
He served for six years in the territorial Legislature before entering the mayoral race in 1950. A bout of tuberculosis, however, forced his withdrawal. He returned in 1954 and beat Frank Fasi.
One of his first acts as mayor: He banned coffee breaks before 10 a.m. and between noon and 2 p.m.
While mayor, Blaisdell expanded the park system, oversaw the construction of the Honolulu International Center, later renamed in his honor, and replaced 224 acres of slums with public housing, most of it downtown.
His administration was called "harmonious." Blaisdell, who was once described as dapper and soft-spoken, was viewed as a politician who got along with foes as well as friends. At parties, he was often asked to do the hula and often, he did.
But he showed flashes of temper, too. In May 1965 in the City Council chamber, he threatened to punch Fasi in the nose.
His death startled many who knew Blaisdell because of his lifelong passion for sports and physical fitness. An avid golfer who found time for two rounds a week, Blaisdell started each day as mayor with 150 to 300 pushups.
He died in 1975 on the eve of his birthday. He suffered a stroke while busy with another of his daily routines doing yard work. He was 72.