Bill Paty’s life read like a popular novel.
D-day paratrooper. Plantation manager. ConCon 1978 president. Adviser to a governor and state Land Board chairman.
On top of that, he taught his children to surf and dive and “could ride a horse better than John Wayne,” said Steve Paty, his eldest son.
William Woods Paty II, who helped shape policies involving land and water, the environment and Native Hawaiians during the late 20th century, died Sunday. He was 97.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Paty was a 23-year-old Army captain in the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when he parachuted into enemy territory, was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans.
At one point he was shot in the groin during a battle with the Germans, and the bullet remained lodged in his body throughout his life.
Paty attempted to escape imprisonment three times, finally finding success with the help of Polish nationals and Russian soldiers which he recounted vividly in a 2014 USA Today article. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service.
Paty graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1942 before enlisting, intending to work on a sugar plantation.
When he returned from the war, he married his Punahou School sweetheart, Marguerite M. “Peggy” Kellerman. And he began a 38-year career at Waialua Sugar in a job that today would be known as the human resources director, Paty said during a 2011 interview on “Long Story Short,” the PBS Hawaii show.
Paty told interviewer Leslie Wilcox that he soon found himself in the middle of the 1946 sugar plantation strike with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“It was an experience that served me well down the road, because you learned how to work with people who had strongly differing opinions of what should be done,” Paty told Wilcox.
When Wilcox told Paty that he was thought of affectionately by Waialua residents decades later because of the personal bonds he formed, he responded, “You could not be in that country situation and not be surrounded by so many good people. … And if you weren’t comfortable and happy in that kind of an environment in Hawaii, I don’t know what would ever happen to you.”
Steve Paty said his father genuinely cared about other people in his life, regardless of who they were. “He told me one time, ‘Be careful how you treat people on the way up, because you’ll never know who you’ll meet on the way down.’”
Former Gov. John Waihee and Paty were elected delegates in the landmark 1978 Hawaii Constitutional Convention.
As the son of a plantation worker, Waihee’s natural inclination was to oppose naming a plantation manager convention president, Waihee said. But he wound up supporting him after “I got to know him, I got to know his character.”
Waihee wound up naming Paty chairman of his two successful gubernatorial campaigns and named him Land Board director to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“He understood land, he understood the need to conserve resources and he was just an all-around good manager,” Waihee said. “We saved thousands of acres. He worked on the land transfers that we gave back to Hawaiian Homes. When we worked on the ceded-land revenues, he was part of that,” he said, noting that Paty’s grandfather Capt. John Paty stood with Queen Lili‘uokalani during the overthrow.
In 2011 City Council Chairman Ernie Martin led a successful effort to name a portion of Kaiaka Beach Park after Bill and Peggy Paty for their role in saving the Haleiwa park from development. “He will always be a true hero and son of Hawaii,” Martin said Thursday.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Paty “changed the course of island politics, which included protections for Native Hawaiian rights, making Hawaiian an official language of the state and protecting our environment.”
After leaving public service, Bill Paty was selected a trustee of the Mark Robinson Trust, a job he continued until just a few months ago, Steve Paty said.
Bill Paty is survived by children Steve, Randy, Meg, William III and Susie; 13 grandchildren; 16 great- grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.
Peggy Paty died in 2012.
A service will be held Nov. 2, 10 a.m., at Central Union Church in Honolulu.