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Former Big Island mayor Stephen Yamashiro dead at 69

    This 1996 photo shows former Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro.

Former Big Island Mayor Stephen K. Yamashiro died of pneumonia at Hilo Medical Center Tuesday night, a family friend said.

Yamashiro, 69, was a fixture in Big Island politics through at least part of each of the last four decades.

He served Hawaii County mayor from 1992 to 2000. Prior to that, he served on the County Council from 1976 to 1990, including being its chairman from 1977 to 1988.

Following the death of Mayor Bernard Akana in 1990, he resigned to run for mayor and lost by 77 votes to council colleague Lorraine Inouye.

Yamashiro won a rematch against Inouye for the county’s top post two years later.

“Mayor Yamashiro loved this community, and was a loyal friend and mentor to many,” Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi said in a statement. “He was always ready with advice and suggestions, sharing generously of his many years of experience as a community leader. He will be missed, and I want to offer my condolences to his wife Della.”

Kenoi went to on say, “As Hawai’i County Council chairman and mayor, Mayor Yamashiro led our community through a very difficult transition period. As the last of the plantations closed in the 1990s, the Big Island was searching for new directions, and Mayor Yamashiro helped steer our island community into the future. His support and advocacy of sectors such as diversified agriculture, forestry and geothermal power are still paying dividends for our residents today. He knew where we needed to go, and he led the way. We are grateful for Mayor Yamashiro’s many contributions to our community.”

State Agriculture Chairman Russell Kokubun served with Yamashiro on the council, ran against him for mayor in 1992, and then worked as his deputy planning director for several years.

Yamashiro was a strong proponent of developing the Big Island while Kokubun advocated slower growth, but that didn’t stop the two from becoming fast friends after the 1992 election.

“His wisdom and experience were unmatched,” Kokubun said this morning. Even after leaving politics, Yamashiro continued to serve as a mentor for younger politicos and business people, Kokubun said.

Yamashiro was known for his often tough, no-nonsense style as a politician and his bluntness turned some people off.

“He was extremely bright, but also very strong-minded, or hard-headed, some might say,” Kokubun said. “But at least you knew where he was coming from.”

After leaving office, Yamashiro suffered a series of aneurysms.

Yamashiro is survived by his wife, Della.

Born in Honolulu, Yamashiro graduated from Punahou School and the University of Hawaii – Manoa. He received his law degree from Williamette University in Oregon.

His first job with Hawaii County was as a deputy corporation counsel.

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