State Rep. Clift Tsuji of the Big Island died today at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu after suffering a heart attack. He was 75.
Tsuji, a Democrat, represented House District 2 including Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004.
As chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Tsuji was a vocal supporter of biotechnology and genetically modified crops. He was also a proponent of geothermal energy as an alternative to imported oil.
Tsuji was re-elected to his seat in the primary election, defeating two challengers. He had no opponent in general election.
“Rep. Clift Tsuji was a quiet man with a big heart who had the courage to stand for his convictions,” said Gov. David Ige in a statement issued this afternoon. “He was a passionate leader and a vigorous advocate for the Hilo community. His legacy of service will be remembered by his constituents and all Hawaii island residents. He was a personal friend, and I am going to miss his presence at the State Capitol. Dawn and I send our condolences to his sons, Ryan and Ashley.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said, “Rep. Tsuji was low-key in style but a firm fighter for the needs of the people of the Big Island. He will be especially remembered for his advocacy of agriculture and its essential role in the economy and culture of Hawaii. Clift was earnest, hard-working, and always had a kind word for people. He will be greatly missed.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell noted that “Clift Tsuji was a friend. He was a decent, gentle man who cared so much about his community. He had much more to give and his passing is a tragic event for all of Hawaii.”
Tsuji was born on Jan. 20, 1941, and raised in the Big Island plantation town of Papaikou.
He was a 1959 graduate of Hilo High School and graduated with a communications degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and studied banking and economics at the University of Washington. Tsuji was vice president of Hilo Candy Co. from 2003 to 2004, and for 34 years he worked as a banker at Central Pacific Bank.
He served in the U.S. Army Reserve, 442nd Infantry, Company B, Hilo, from 1959 to 1965.
The family requested privacy. Services are pending.