The longtime owner of Honolulu Magazine “raised the bar” for island journalists in the 1970s and ’80s, his colleagues say.
David Pellegrin, for decades a media institution as chairman and owner of Honolulu Publishing Co., died Saturday of cardiac arrest following knee surgery. He was 74.
Pellegrin “was immensely loyal to his friends, to his employees,” said political analyst and MidWeek columnist Dan Boylan. “He took care of his employees, got them good retirement plans and medical plans … he was very, very kind in that way. I loved him, big-time.”
Pellegrin “was a tremendous journalist himself,” said Richard Borreca, retired Star-Advertiser columnist, whom Pellegrin hired to write a political column in the early 1980s.
Honolulu Magazine had really good writers, Borreca said, citing Bob Dye’s media criticism column and the late Jim Hackleman’s sports column.
“Dave helped raise the bar for journalists in Hawaii,” Borreca said.
Pellegrin was born on the family farm in Woodstock, Ill. The family later relocated to Wisconsin.
Pellegrin’s desire to become a journalist was sparked during high school. At 16, he earned the opportunity to travel to Africa as part of a national program by writing an essay, having good grades, and helping with voter education in the 1960s South, said his widow, Kathleen Pellegrin.
His dream of becoming a foreign correspondent in China brought him to Hawaii for post-graduate Asian studies via an East-West Center grant and he later got a job with the Honolulu Advertiser as an editorial writer and then a reporter, but he was enamored with long-form writing.
According to a circa-2012 speech to Hawaii Pacific University journalism students, he didn’t think Honolulu Magazine was very good in his newspaper days, so he and a colleague crafted a plan to establish a competing magazine. The plan never came to fruition, as Pellegrin moved to Hong Kong to write for the Associated Press, and then to Barbados’ new Caribbean News Agency.
Then he learned Honolulu Magazine was for sale.
In 1977, together with the Wisconsin publishing company where his father was president and minority owner, he purchased the magazine established by King David Kalakaua in 1888 as Paradise of the Pacific, and Honolulu Publishing Co. was born. Over the years Pellegrin improved the magazine, built circulation, added titles and eventually acquired sole ownership. His staff grew from six to more than 90.
When they first met “he was fresh off the boat,” said Boylan, then a graduate student. The two were friends for decades, and until recently were season ticket-holders for University of Hawaii basketball and would attend games together.
Pellegrin was also a jazz enthusiast and drummer.
“We went to the Monterey Jazz Festival every year,” said Kathleen Pellegrin.
Going back perhaps 20 years, he played in a band, The Psychedelic Relics, composed of professionals-by-day, and musicians-when-they-could-be.
In 1992, Pellegrin’s first-born son, George, was killed in traffic at age 18. The Compassionate Friends, a national nonprofit bereavement support organization, provided the help Pellegrin needed and he became a volunteer for the group.
“He was at one point the president of the national board of directors, and he also started the Trust for the Compassionate Friends, and was Honolulu Chapter leader … he did it all in memory of his son,” Kathleen Pellegrin said.
The early 1990s were difficult for magazines, but Honolulu Magazine pulled through and continued its run as the longest-published magazine west of the Mississippi River.
“I spent years courting Dave to sell me Honolulu Magazine and Island Business,” said Duane Kurisu, who bought the magazines in 2001 and also serves on the board of directors of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I lacked background and feel for the magazine publishing business and Dave knew that. So during those years of going on the chase, I learned a lot from Dave and his executive staff.”
Pellegrin retained and further built titles aimed at the visitor industry.
“Although I haven’t seen him for years, I miss him,” Kurisu said by email. “I wish only the best for his family.”
Pellegrin is also survived by son Adam “Konti” Pellegrin; brother Jonathan Pellegrin; a niece, nephew and grand-nieces and a grand-nephew. Plans for a celebration of life are pending.