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Lee Cataluna

‘Pop’ Diamond’s career focused on his students

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  • DENNIS ODA / 2003
    Luryier “Pop” Diamond displays “Images of Aloha” at the 2003 launch party for the photography book about his years at Kamehameha Schools, which began in the early 1950s.

For close to 60 years, his were the eyes through which Kamehameha students saw themselves. Luryier “Pop” Diamond served as school photographer, and later, photographer emeritus, at the Kapalama campus until he was 96 years old. He died March 10.

He liked to say he never left his office without a camera, which was his explanation of how he seemed to have been everywhere all the time. His black-and-white photographs captured every nuance of campus life, from solemn ceremonies to ebullient class picnics to the quiet focus of studying.

He retired in 1984 when he turned 70, the mandatory retirement age, and he was hired back by the school the next day as a consultant to serve as photo archivist. His last contract was as school photographer emeritus, ending in 2010.

Diamond was born in New York in 1914 and came to Hawaii in 1943 while serving in the Army during World War II. He learned photography at a photo studio in Hilo and later moved to Oahu, where he opened a photography business of his own.

He was hired to shoot the dedication of Konia Hall on the Kapalama Campus in 1950. After that, he was called often to do freelance work on campus and was offered a full-time position in public relations in 1953. Diamond soon began to teach photography to the students and started the school’s camera club.


Memorial services for Luryier “Pop” Diamond will be held at 6 p.m. April 12 at each Kamehameha Schools campus. At Kapalama, the service will be held in the chapel.

“He was like Merlin,” said former student Bruce Lum, KSB ’65. “Everything about him was surprising, magical and thought-provoking.”

His first student photographer, Ernest Ho‘a, KSB ’54, is credited with coining the nickname “Pop,” inspired by the sound of the flashbulbs on Diamond’s old Speed Graphic camera.

“Some of the faculty objected to that because they thought it was disrespectful,” Diamond said in a 2003 interview. “I said, ‘It’s none of their damn business and it doesn’t bother me any … pretty soon, all the kids were doing it and before long everyone was calling me Pop — even the staff and faculty.”

He was a licensed pilot, and during his earlier years at Kamehameha he would fly a two-seater propeller plane over the campus, let go of the controls and hang out the side to get aerial shots of the school.

He was also a great fan of opera, an interest he gladly shared on campus.

“Pop was very cultured,” said former student Clif Carpenter, KSB ’55. “His first job out of high school was as an usher at the New York Metropolitan Opera House. He became addicted to opera. Knew all the operas!”

In 1954, Diamond brought opera legend Marian Anderson to campus. He amassed an extensive collection of opera recordings, which he donated to Stanford University in 2008. A description of the trove reads:

“The Luryier Diamond Collection contains 1850 reel-to-reel tapes of broadcast and live performances of classical music and opera dating from the 1930s through the 1990s that are unavailable as published recordings. Performances of the Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Chicago Lyric Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, and the Teatro la Fenice are among the organizations found in the Collection which includes many unusual and rarely performed operas. All of the most important opera singers from the golden age of opera are represented in this collection resulting from a life-long interest in the world’s greatest music and operas.”

To his students, Diamond was the kind of teacher about whom Hollywood movies are made. Lum, who became a professional photographer and Kamehameha’s photographer and Web development manager, said, “I regard my relationship with Pop as one of my most important life-changing experiences.” Lum remembers as a freshman at Kamehameha longing to take Diamond’s photography class and having to interview with Diamond for one of two open spots. “I’ll never know why he chose me, but I think he knew I really needed him,” Lum said.

Lum remembers the student photographers cramming into Diamond’s ’57 VW Bug with all their bulky photo gear to go to football and basketball games. After the game, Diamond would treat the boys to dinner at Tops, Flamingo Chuck Wagon, Kenny’s or Queen Surf before taking them back to the dorms. When Lum was accepted into a collegiate photography program in New York, Diamond gave him one of his best German-made cameras, a Rolleiflex, so Lum could make extra money shooting weddings on the weekend to help pay his tuition.

“It was just like Pop to support his students in every possible way without hesitation and with grace,” Lum said.

Diamond’s nephew Herbert Levy, one of his closest living relatives, arranged a funeral service for Diamond  last week in New York. Diamond was predeceased by his wife, Lillian, whom most people called “Tootsie,” a son, Herbert, and brother, Philip. He is survived by nephews, friends and generations of Kamehameha students who called him “Pop.”

A collection of Diamond’s photographs was published in the book “Images of Aloha” in 2003. Copies of the book are still available through with a portion of the proceeds being donated to a scholarship fund in his name.


Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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