William D. Balfour Jr., a former sugar industry leader who later served for two decades as the head of various Honolulu city departments, has died at the age of 87.
The son of a sugar plantation physician, Balfour was born on Kauai in 1932 and followed in his father’s footsteps into the sugar industry, rising to the positions of president and manager of Oahu Sugar Co., Lihue Plantation Co. and Pioneer Mill Co.
“Bill Balfour was the last of a generation and one of the giants of the sugar industry who managed the last of the sugar plantations and mills that once powered our economy,” former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in a statement Wednesday. “He was a remarkable man who devoted his life to the people of Hawaii.”
Balfour graduated from Punahou School in 1950, served in the U.S. Navy and earned an agriculture degree from the University of Missouri before taking a job as agricultural research director with the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association.
During his sugar career, he served in numerous managerial positions for American Factors (AMFAC) and Alexander & Baldwin across the islands.
In a resume submitted for his 2015 appointment to the state Commission on Water Resources Management, Balfour noted, among other things, that he had walked the Waiahole Ditch System and rafted through the Koolau Tunnel.
“I possess a genuine appreciation of water, its value and its fragile state in many areas of Hawaii. Water has many competing demands and requires thoughtful and rational management to which I believe I can contribute,” he wrote.
In 1997, after nearly 40 years in agriculture, Balfour became director of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Jeremy Harris.
He served as Civil Defense Agency administrator for two years under Hannemann and then as special assistant to the parks director under Mayor Peter Carlisle.
Writing in Honolulu Civil Beat in 2014, Carlisle said he appointed Balfour because he was a knowledgeable, experienced and disciplined man with a sharp intellect. “The knowledge and experiences that had shaped him, also shaped the state, and his past in the sugar industry gave him tools that were much needed in the city,” the former mayor wrote.
When the Honolulu Zoo lost its director in November 2016, Mayor Kirk Caldwell asked Balfour to become interim director. He held that job until Linda Santos was appointed zoo director in September 2017.
Balfour continued to work as a grounds and facilities maintenance specialist until December.
“Bill had a no-nonsense, ‘get-it-done’ attitude that positively influenced all of those that worked with him,” Caldwell said in a news release. “Despite consistently pushing his staff to put in a hard day’s work, something he did every day right alongside them, everyone admired Bill because he was honest, fair and warmhearted. He was one of a kind, and he will truly be missed.”
A memorial service is planned for Monday, May 13, at the Oahu Cemetery Chapel with visitation at 9 a.m. followed by the service at 10:30 a.m.
Balfour is survived by his wife, Dee Balfour, six children, 11 grandchildren and a brother.