David Matthews, 81, led Sandy Beach coalition
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
By Suzanne Roig
David Matthews, who helped launch the movement to stop development across from Sandy Beach, died Saturday. He was 81.
In an interview last January, Matthews talked about his accomplishments, including his involvement in the state Democratic Party and several service groups around town.
"My clock is running down now and I have trouble day to day," Matthews said "But I still keep busy. I help with the Hawai'i Kai Hui" — a group concerned with land use in that community.
First Circuit Judge Michael Wilson described Matthews as larger than life.
"He was the kind of guy who created inspiration," Wilson said yesterday. "He was a rough person who had the social (conscience) gene. He was an extremely loving guy who had an amazing capacity to love people in a real human level."
Matthews and his wife, Elizabeth, retired to Hawai'i in 1984, after he was diagnosed with lung disease.
He loved his adopted home and organized the Save Sandy Beach Coalition with Phil Estermann to protect the shoreline. But he wanted to make sure that he would be remembered not just as the man who blocked development, but for reading to kids at Palolo Elementary School with his dog, Shaina, and his work with the East Honolulu Rotary Club.
Before his illness became acute, he could be seen in his "poor man's Cadillac" — a dark blue Buick — around town going to city Transportation Commission meetings, neighborhood board meetings and to the Palolo school.
At the time of the Sandy Beach dispute in 1986, Kamehameha Schools owned the land on either side of Kealahou Street and planned to build 172 townhomes on what was called Golf Course 5 and 6. But Matthews and others organized an islandwide grassroots movement that ultimately ended with the city rezoning and purchasing the land to ensure that it wasn't developed.
Shirley Lum, a Hawai'i Kai resident who worked with Matthews and Estermann, said: "We were comrades in arms. I saw him as the lion. He never gave up. He was a vociferous defender of open space at Sandy Beach and Queen's Beach."
His work with the Save Sandy Beach Coalition began while he was a member of Save Queen's Beach, which was working to block a plan to build hotels and condominiums in the area commonly called Alan Davis Beach, below the Makapu'u Lighthouse hiking trail.
The Save Sandy Beach Coalition organized supporters who attended marathon City Council hearings that lasted well into the night to urge the council to rezone the land. The group backed a ballot initiative where more than 120,000 people voted against the housing plan.
Matthews spent years lobbying lawmakers to allow zoning by public initiative and worked behind the scenes for an organization called the Hawai'i Democratic Movement, whose stated goal was to put more liberal politicians in office.
Estermann said: "David's hallmarks were his commitment and persistence. When our energies flagged, or other demands on our time caused our attentions to waiver, we could always rely on David to keep us focused on the goal."
Hawai'i Kai Hui founder Elizabeth Reilly said Matthews' legacy extends well beyond the Save Sandy Beach movement.
"It will continue to be the driving force behind protecting the natural environment of the irreplaceable Ka Iwi Coast in perpetuity. The heart and soul of what David taught us is best summed up in his favorite thought-provoking quote: 'If we lose the beauty of the shoreline ... we lose what it means to live in Hawai'i.' "
Matthews was born in Canada on Feb. 12, 1925. He grew up in Cleveland, but didn't graduate with his high school class in 1943 because he volunteered to join the U.S. Army. He served three years as a military policeman, based in England. He eventually became a successful businessman in Cleveland and formed his own company called Jade-Sterling Steel Co.
After retiring to Honolulu in 1984, he sailed and traveled throughout Europe and Asia.
"I traveled a lot. I had a lot of fun in life," he said. "I've done a lot with my life. The Save Sandy Beach Coalition was the best, the most satisfying and rewarding.
"I swell every time I drive to the coastline, especially when I see what the state is doing with the Ka Iwi improvements."
He is survived by his wife; son, Dr. Daryl Matthews, who lives in Hawai'i; and two grandsons. Services are private. A celebration of Matthews' life will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Sandy Beach.
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.