Honolulu was Fasi's '12th child,' former mayor's family says
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
While many in Honolulu remember Mayor Frank Fasi for bringing in a new bus system or bulldozing a parking lot, his children remember him for always taking time to eat dinner at home and listen to how their day went.
Joyce Fasi, the mayor's widow, and the six children she had with him — Chuck, 51; Frank Jr., 49; Gina, 48; David, 47; Gioia Fasi Arrillaga, 46; and Salvatore, 45 — spoke yesterday about the personal side of the mayor who died Wednesday at age 89.
"I remember for years, he and my mom went out every night," Chuck said. "And they would go to three to four functions every single night."
"But we always had dinner together," Gioia said. The mayor insisted on it. "Dinner was important, and the family made sure we had dinner around the table — with no TV on."
"And no politics," Gina said. "It was about how our days were."
After dinner, the mayor and Mrs. Fasi would head off to their functions.
Fasi had six kids with Joyce and five children from an earlier marriage, but Frank Jr. said they always knew there was a 12th child that demanded much of their father's attention.
"He had 11 kids, but I would always say my dad has 12 kids," Frank Jr. said. "He loves all 11 of us, but he also loves the 12th child, and that was the city."
The family gathered yesterday at Gioia's home for an interview with The Advertiser. They said it was the first time they'd had a chance to sit down together and discuss Fasi's life since he died.
What they offered was a glimpse into a boisterous and close-knit family, prone to interrupting each other as they speak, and fiercely protective of their patriarch.
The mayor fell Jan. 4 and was hospitalized. He returned to his Makiki home about a week before he died. Joyce and her six children were with him when he died.
The family yesterday confirmed it has agreed to accept Mayor Mufi Hannemann's offer to hold a public memorial service on the grounds of Honolulu Hale. City officials and the family are targeting the first week of March, although details are still being discussed, he said.
Fasi was a city councilman from 1964 to 1968 and mayor for 22 years after that, meaning he was in office during most of his children's lives at home.
David recalled how he once told his mom that he was upset because his father never came to his 'Iolani swimming and water polo team matches.
The next day, David said, his father told him, " 'You got to understand ... I've got to take care of a million people. I don't just have you guys. One day you'll understand.' "
Gioia recalled her father always reminded them to take care of each other.
"If we got into little tiffs growing up, he would bring us together and say 'This is your brother, this is your sister, these are the most important people in your life,' " Gioia recalled.
The mayor insisted the kids go to public school at nearby Lincoln Elementary School until sixth grade so they could be friends with people of all social strata. After that he sent them to private high schools and helped pay their way through college.
With only a single income, the mayor almost went broke one year when five of the children were attending college at the same time, David said.
Frank Jr. noted that their father often surprised the friends that the children brought to the Makiki home.
"They always told us your dad's nothing like what you read in the newspapers," Frank Jr. said. "He always had that sincere smile and he would talk to them."
While he attended few sporting events or ballet recitals, he made sure he spent time with them individually, Chuck said.
"He didn't spend a tremendous amount of time with us because he was dedicated to the the city and county and to the people," Chuck said. "But the time that he did spend with us was quality."
While no one would ever call Frank Fasi shy, his family said the public would have been surprised to know he was an introvert. He played the showman, such as dressing up like "Rambo" for a press conference, because he had to, they said.
But he much preferred to be ensconced in the quiet study of the nuts-and-bolts of what would make the city better, they said.
"He wasn't the person most people thought he was," Chuck said.
The children recalled how their father was a voracious reader. Nightly, he would devour the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the two Honolulu dailies. His reading of the latter two often came with curses. the children said with a collective laugh.
There were also tons of magazines about municipal government from throughout the world.
"I remember one day, I picked up this magazine and he said, 'We're going to build this,' " David said.
Within weeks, planners began working on the city's H-Power waste-to-energy facility at Campbell Industrial Park.
Chuck said he loved going for drives around the island with his father because he was always looking out the window trying to find something he could improve.
"He would drive around and look at stuff and say 'We could do something with this,' " Chuck said.
When he finally retired from politics after his 2004 loss in the mayoral election, Fasi devoted much of his time to his favorite non-political hobby: woodworking.
Joyce recalled how he loved working in the basement shop of their Makiki home. "He was a woodmaker. He loved to make wood cabinets, little square blocks with the days and the date. And he was very meticulous."
"If we needed a table or a bed, we would ask him if he could make it, and he would!" Gina said.
Joyce said she once went on a trip to the Mainland by herself only to return to have her husband show off new cabinets in her kitchen made from surplus wood retrieved from the old Kress store downtown. "He was so proud."
The mayor also went to breakfast downtown each morning, golfed some, and read the Bible more often, the family said.
Fasi's activities declined significantly in 2006 following surgery for a non-cancerous tumor found in his colon, the family said.
But he appeared to be in good spirits until a fall in his living room Jan. 4, which required a partial hip replacement, Joyce said.
David, an attorney who had been in the middle of a two-week trial, said he was surprised when his mom phoned him to go to the house on the advice of doctors Wednesday night. "He was ready to go."
Fasi's five children from his previous marriage are Toni, Kathleen, Carl, Paul and Francesca Brittain. He is also survived by 20 grandchildren.