William S. Richardson, whose tenures as Hawaii Democratic Party leader, lieutenant governor and chief justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court helped shepherd Hawaii from U.S. territory to modern state, died early this morning at age 90, the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law said in a news release.
A self-described “local boy” who grew up in Palama and Kaimuki, Richardson rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential political and legal figures in modern Hawaiian history.
Richardson, for whom the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law is named, graduated from Roosevelt High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from the UH and a juris doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. After college, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and later served as platoon leader with the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment in combat operations in Leyte, Philippines.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Richardson drew on his multi-ethnic heritage and commitment to the working class to help guide the emerging Democratic Party in its efforts to promote statehood and to overturn decades of Republican leadership. When colleague John Burns became Hawaii’s first Democratic governor in 1963, Richardson became lieutenant governor.
But it was as head of the state’s highest court that Richardson’s impact was greatest. With Richardson at the helm from 1966 to 1982, the Richardson court handed down a series of judgments that assured public access to beaches, upheld traditional Hawaiian laws on access to kuleana lands, and affirmed public ownership of water and other natural resources. The decisions were consistent with Richardson’s controversial stand that western exclusivity concepts were not always consistent or applicable in Hawaii.
Richardson’s term as chief justice would prove pivotal as Hawaii’s population more than doubled and commercial development accelerated in the 1960s and ’70s.
But Richardson’s crowning achievement may have been the establishment of the UH Manoa law school, a cause he had supported for decades as a means of providing quality, affordable legal education for local residents. Richardson himself referred to the school as “a dream come true.” The school was named in his honor upon his retirement as chief justice in 1982.
After retiring from the court, Richardson served as a trustee for Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, a position he held until 1992.
Services have been scheduled for July 8 and 9 at the UH Manoa law school and St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Friends can pay respects at the William S. Richardson School of Law on July 8 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Services will be held on July 9 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral at 11:30 a.m. Friends can call after 9 a.m. at St. Andrew’s.
Burial is private.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the “William S. Richardson — Realizing the Dream” fund at the law school.