Nelson Doi, former lieutenant governor, judge, and state senator, dies

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Nelson Kiyoshi Doi, former lieutenant governor, judge and state senator, died earlier this month in Waimea. He was 93.


Nelson Kiyoshi Doi, former lieutenant governor, judge and state senator, died earlier this month in Waimea. He was 93.

Doi, known for his long and illustrious career in public service dating to Hawaii’s days as a U.S. Territory, died Saturday surrounded by family and friends at his South Kohala home. Services are pending.

“For a politician, he just had incredible integrity, he really didn’t do things selfishly and he always wanted to do what he thought was right for the state and the people of Hawaii. That was something that was really important to him,” said Doi’s daughter, Kathy Doi, who added her father always stressed to his sons “You’re not born here to be nothing.” “He would be very happy if he felt his legacy was that he had helped the people of Hawaii in some way.”

Added son David T. Doi, “for me, he was a ‘what you see what you get kind of guy,’ and he taught me values by example.”

Doi, who was born on New Year’s Day 1922 in Pahoa, was the fourth of six sons raised by Tadaichi Doi and Chieno Kurata. He grew up in Kawaihae and was educated at Honokaa High School before attending University of Hawaii at Manoa and University of Minnesota Law School. He passed the Hawaii Bar in 1948 and married Eiko Oshima, an accomplished pianist from Hilo, the same year.

His career in public service, which spanned all three branches of government, began with his appointment to deputy district attorney, which was followed by his election to the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention in 1950, where he was the youngest delegate at age 28. He played an active and vocal role there, and was one of five delegates selected to lobby for statehood in Washington, D.C., with success on Aug. 21, 1959, when Hawaii was declared the 50th state.

In 1954, he won a seat in the Territorial Senate, a position he held for 14 years, serving as president and chairman of various committees, including Ways and Means, Education and Agriculture. While chairman of the Agriculture Committee, his daughter said he was credited with having done more for agriculture than any other lawmaker. He was an early proponent of tourism and helped draft the legislation that produced the first tourism destination area study, as well as a strong advocate for education.

Doi left the legislative branch and entered the judicial branch in 1969, serving as judge of the 3rd Circuit Court for five years, earning a reputation for fairness and impartial rulings, his daughter said.

He then ran a successful bid for lieutenant governor, entering the executive branch in 1974. During his four-year tenure, Doi served as the chairman of the Elections Committee of the Secretaries of States, and was a spokesman for reform of corrections and prevention of juvenile delinquency. In 1978, he ran unsuccessfully for Honolulu mayor.

Doi and wife, Eiko, who preceded him in death in 2010, then spent a year in Japan teaching English before moving to the Marshall Islands, where Doi served on the High Court in 1985. He returned to the Big Island by 1986, but remained a well-known person in the community.

“Even in his older years, he would go up to everybody that smiled at him or knew him — whether they were sweeping the street or they were the governor, he would always take the time, especially for the common person, to talk story,” said Doi’s son, David.

Doi also had an active life outside public service, including initiating the development of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, which opened in 1965 providing jobs and economic opportunity, as well as lobbying the state Legislature in 1996 for money for the public-partnership that built North Hawaii Community Hospital. He also played an instrumental role in pulling together the Honokaa and Waimea communities to reach an equitable solution for the hospital.

“During his extensive career as a public servant, former Lt. Gov. Nelson Doi worked on many important initiatives that set the stage for Hawaii’s future, including a measure that explored creating a robust tourism industry. I have great respect for his lasting accomplishments and his advocacy for education. My heartfelt aloha and condolences to his family and loved ones,” Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui said Tuesday in a prepared statement.


He is survived by son, Dr. David T. (Aimee Love) Doi of Waimea; daughter, Katherine A. (Bruce Phillips) Doi of Palo Alto, Calif.; grandchildren, Madeline Phillips, Jana Doi, Mariko Doi and Nate Phillips; sisters-in-law, Tsuneko Doi and Barbara Doi; 18 nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers or monetary gifts, the family requests a donation be made to North Hawaii Hospice in “Memory of Nelson Doi” to 65-1328 Kawaihae Road, Kamuela, HI 96743.

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