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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Henry Hideo Otani, helped complete Subaru Telescope

 •  Obituaries

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i Henry Hideo Otani, a prominent Hilo contractor and engineer who oversaw construction of such projects as the high-tech Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea and the Kamehameha Schools campus at Kea'au, died May 26 in Hilo. He was 63.

Otani was born on Jan. 29, 1942, and grew up in a plantation camp in Kaumana in Hilo. He was brilliant but also dyslexic, and could barely read until he reached the eighth grade, said his wife, Tiffany. He got help from a teacher who coached him with comic books, and Otani voluntarily attended summer school year after year to catch up with his peers.

He graduated from Hilo High School in 1961 in the top 10 percent of his class, and went on to receive a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. He was the first college graduate in his family, Tiffany Otani said.

Otani's father, Hideyoshi Otani, was a contractor, and as the eldest son Henry Otani began working as a laborer for his father while in high school. He spent one summer sinking telephone poles across the long stretches of empty space between Hilo and Kona, and Henry's father gave him an old car as payment, Tiffany Otani said.

The family-owned business evolved into the Fair Contracting Company, with Henry Otani working his way up the company hierarchy as a trade journeyman, foreman, project supervisor and manager. Henry was president of the company when it finally closed in 1997 in the poor economic climate in Hawai'i at the time.

Otani was hired by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan to help complete the $300 million Subaru project in the wake of a fire at the telescope site that killed three workers in 1996. That effort included hauling the telescope's huge 27-foot mirror from the Kawaihae docks to Mauna Kea to install it at the observatory near the 13,796-foot summit.

Otani worked for Wesley R. Segawa & Associates Inc. as project manager for the Big Island Kamehameha Schools project, and then took a position as director of operations for the campus.

"He was very graceful with people. He had a way of talking to you that made you feel he honored you as an individual, no matter how much education or background you had," Tiffany Otani said. "He just valued people of all different sorts, and he placed a lot of value and emphasis on integrity and honor."

Otani was named the U.S. Small Business Administration's Minority Small Business Person of the Year for Hawai'i in 1986, and was named Small Business Person of the Year for the Big Island in 1990.

He was a private pilot, and was active in a variety of business organizations including the Hawaii Island Contractor's Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

He is survived by wife, Tiffany; son Brandon; daughter Michelle Makanui; brother Raymond; sisters Darlene Martin and Mildred DeMattos; and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 5 p.m. Friday at Borthwick Hawai'i Funeral Home in Hilo; service at 6 p.m., aloha attire.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.