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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bob Oshiro, Democratic stalwart

 •  Obituaries

By Kim Fassler
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bob Oshiro

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The most important thing for Bob Oshiro as a campaign manager was not getting his candidate elected, but what the candidate would do once in office.

Oshiro, who worked tirelessly to rally grassroots support for the Hawai'i Democratic Party for more than 30 years, died Tuesday from a sudden ruptured aortic aneurysm, his family said in a statement. He was 83 years old.

He died at Wahiawa General Hospital with his immediate family around him.

Tom Coffman, who wrote about Oshiro in his political histories of the Islands, "Catch a Wave" and "The Island Edge of America," yesterday called him "the most effective campaign manager in the history of Hawai'i."

Oshiro not only managed five winning gubernatorial campaigns, he took on campaigns that were uphill battles, Coffman said.

That included an intense, come-from-behind effort in 1970 to re-elect then-Gov. John A. Burns, which landed Oshiro in a hospital bed.

"I saw him when he would stand up and speak, and with the power of his convictions and reasoning and emotion, he could move crowds," Coffman said.

Oshiro was born Nov. 29, 1924. He went on to practice law and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1959 the year Hawai'i became a state.

He represented the plantation towns of Wahiawa and Waialua in the House for three years and was chosen as Democratic Party chairman in 1962.

Today his son, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th, represents Wahiawa.

In the mid-1960s, the elder Oshiro kept a chart of every Democrat in the Legislature according to their ages. He pressed other Democrats to invigorate the party with new, young members.

He would ask, "What kind of action can we take now to make sure that 10 years later, we don't fall apart?" said former Gov. George Ariyoshi, whom Oshiro helped in 1974, 1978 and 1982 in his races for governor.

"He used the word 'cause,' " Ariyoshi said. "He said, 'What's our cause ... why are we getting involved?' We spent a lot of time talking about that."

Most recently, Oshiro pushed for educational grants for local nursing programs and support for the University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine as chairman of The Queen's Health Systems and the Queen Emma Foundation. He served as a trustee of The Queen's Health Systems from 1976 until his retirement in 2003.

Art Ushijima, president and CEO of The Queen's Health Systems, described Oshiro as "a very private person who cared a great deal about the community and about the common man."

In a news release yesterday, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said Oshiro "contributed much to the social, economic, and political advances that transformed Hawai'i into a more equal and just society."

Former Gov. John Waihee yesterday compared Oshiro to Cincinnatus, an ancient Roman political figure known for returning to the simple life of a farmer after serving out each political term.

"He was the example of the ideal warrior, and Bob Oshiro was that kind of person," he said.

"After every campaign ... he wanted to go back to Wahiawa, and that's where he went."

Oshiro is survived by his wife, Ruth; daughters, Roberta and Susan; his son, Marcus; and four grandchildren.

Reach Kim Fassler at fassler@honoluluadvertiser.com.