By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
John Bellinger, who rose from bank teller to the chairman and chief executive officer of First Hawaiian Bank, once attributed the firm's success — and his own — by staying "in your own backyard" and dealing with people you know something about.
At a time when large banks across the country floundered when they ventured into the unknown, Bellinger's philosophy kept Hawai'i's second-largest bank on course during two decades of record earnings. He guided First Hawaiian through a time of credit cards and automated banking.
When Bellinger unexpectedly died in his sleep in 1989, then-Gov. John Waihe'e said the banker played "a major role" in the economic and social development of the place he loved.
"It goes without saying that John Bellinger was one of Hawai'i's most influential business leaders with an unwavering belief in the potential and strength of his state and fellow citizens," Waihe'e said.
The part-Hawaiian son of a Pearl Harbor electrician, Bellinger was a long-time civic leader who felt it was important to give back to a community that nurtured him. He was one of the state's highest-paid executives — a gruff, direct employer — but friends said he also identified with the little guy. The causes Bellinger helped with both time and money included the Boy Scouts of America, Palama Settlement, Kawaiaha'o Church and the Boys Club.