WAIMEA — Several hundred people from multi-generations came out in force Friday to attend a memorial celebration of one of their own — Harold “Freddy” Rice Jr. — at Pukalani Stables. He died Jan. 5 at age 83.
They shared memories of their friend in an atmosphere abundant with lei, cowboy hats and boots, with photographs of Rice decorating each table. The service was sponsored by the Paniolo Preservation Society of which he was a founding member.
Rice’s widow, Gail, said her husband was “a beautiful man, whose legacy was his love and devolution to this island, ranching, rodeo, big game fishing and polo.”
“I miss him terribly,” she added.
By every measure Freddy lived a full and impactful life. Those who knew him well remember how he touched the lives of many.
A consummate competitor
Freddy was a rodeo cowboy his whole life and loved competing, especially in team roping. A favorite family story tells about the time he was competing in a team roping event when his horse fell, nearly crushing him. Once freed, he jumped up and shouted to his partner, “Did you get the flag?”
Master rancher and equestrian
In the ranching world Freddy came from good stock. His grandfather, Harold Waterhouse “Pop” Rice, was a member of the territorial Senate and a Maui businessman. His father, Harold Frederick “Oskie” Rice, owned the 18,000-acre Kaonoulu Ranch on the slopes of Haleakala.
Raised on the family’s ranch, Freddy was as comfortable on the back of a horse as he was walking, and he began practicing roping in the pen by age 7. He managed several ranches over his lifetime including Grove Ranch on Maui, Kahuku Ranch in Kau and his last ranch in Waimea’s Lalamilo agriculture community until his passing last month.
At Kahuku, Freddy and his first wife, Sally, worked synergistically to conduct significant advances in range management. Research they did on grazing, fertilizers and different types of cattle grass was published in University of Hawaii extension bulletins and helped ranchers increase the amount of beef they could raise per acre. Freddy and his workers also practiced new methods of forest management to encourage the growth of native trees.
Freddy loved polo and was good at it. After competing at Punahou School, he received a scholarship to play polo at New Mexico Military Institute, which had the best polo program in the nation at the time. When the school announced it was discontinuing its polo program, Freddy transferred to Cornell University — not because it was revered academically but because it had the second best polo program. Polo aside, he got an excellent education in livestock marketing, agronomy, nutrition and conservation.
In the 1960s, Rice co-founded the Hawaii Rodeo Cowboys Association. According to local historian Dr. Billy Bergin, the group produced a rule book that still stands today as the well-conceived, published and applied guidelines for rodeo production on Hawaii Island.
“By 1964, the rodeo scene in Hawaii had become significantly professionalized in no small part to Freddy’s influence,” Bergin said.
As recently as last fall, Freddy was still competitively team roping and particularly enjoyed doing it with his grandson, Daniel Miranda.
For a decade, Freddy was a charter fishing boat skipper with a client list of about 2,000 people. He participated in and won several fishing contests.
When competing in the annual Hawaii International Billfish Tournament, Freddy always went as far south as possible to catch the biggest fish. But going out so far meant he was always the last one back in. That infuriated contest judges because it made them miss cocktail hour, so they invented the “Freddy Rice cocktail hour rule” requiring entrants to get back early to weigh in. The rule is still part of the tournament today.
A true believer
Freddy never backed off a fight if he felt he was right. He is well known for his involvement in a U.S. Supreme Court Case challenging race-based elections at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Freddy sued, citing the 15th Amendment which prohibits race-based voting discrimination.
After losing in all the lower courts, he took the case to the Supreme Court which ruled 7-2 in his favor. The historic Rice v. Cayetano decision made it clear that there was no place for racial preferences in deciding who gets to vote. The landmark case gave Freddy national notoriety. A recent article in Hawaii Free Press stated, “Rice’s passion and conviction for what is right and what is not has had the biggest impact on Hawaii’s melting pot since statehood.”
A benevolent man
Freddy’s daughter, Morag, said her father always did what he could to help people — even if they couldn’t help him back.
A local cowboy, Jessie Hoopai, was a recipient of Freddy’s generosity. He befriended Jessie and his brother when they were young and took them to work cattle with him on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
“He didn’t treat us like kids, he treated us just like the other workmen and that was huge for us,” Hoopai said. “He knew what we were capable of doing, really trusted us and gave us the reins on a lot of things, especially helping him on his ranch. He really cared about us, and at times believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.”
A loving husband, father and grandfather
Freddy is survived by his wife, Gail, and children F. McGrew Rice, Bonnie Rice, Morag Miranda, Sheena Golish and Lilah Ellis. He is also survived by his stepdaughter, Holly Jones; hanai daughter Sienna Rogers; 12 grandchildren, four step-grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
While wooing her, Gail remembers initially opposing it because of their 15-year age difference.
Freddy’s response was, “Look, I don’t mind if you’re too young.”
He encouraged her to attend an upcoming rodeo to watch him compete. She remembered leaning on the rail to watch.
“He comes out on his horse, ropes that calf, jumps off his horse, ties the calf and throws up his hands. It just blew me away. I thought, ‘Wow. There is no age difference.’”
A city girl who was terrified of horses when she met Freddy, Gail learned a lot from him and he learned a lot from her.
“He became a lot more compassionate with animals during our 25 years together,” she said.
Gail learned the cowboy lifestyle working with Freddy on the ranch from dawn until dusk for many years before starting her dog boarding business. Doggie Dude Ranch sustained the couple between cattle sales, which sometimes were six months apart.
Freddy’s children and grandchildren have fond memories of their childhoods and hanging out with their dad and grandpa.
“Freddy was a wonderful father who took me on great adventures, from fishing along the Kona Coast up to South Point, to camping overnight on the boat at Captain Cook and herding cattle on Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and the Kohala Mountains,” Bonnie Rice said.
When she was 11, Freddy took her to the mainland to purchase her first purebred brahma heifer to start her own cattle herd.
His granddaughter, Ashley Wilken, said, “Freddy was not only the best grandfather, he was our coach, role model and biggest supporter. We learned hundreds of life lessons from our grandpa including ‘Always latch the gate chain on the second link so you know when someone else has been on your ranch.’”
Wilken spoke on behalf of the entire Rice clan when she said, “Freddy was the greatest man I ever knew, and being part of his legacy is the greatest blessing.”
A poignant moment at Rice’s service Friday was the inclusion of one of his favorite horses, who stood in a trailer near the entrance to the Stables, saddled but riderless.
“Honey Girl came to say goodbye,” Gail concluded.