Born in Allahabad, India, to missionary parents, former Hawaii island state Sen. David Matsuura was rooted in his faith, helping shape some of his political positions later in life.
Son of the late state Sen. Richard Matsuura, the younger Matsuura successfully ran for his late father’s seat in 1998. He was also a businessman, who took over the family’s orchid business, a ranch manager, a Realtor and was involved in forestry.
He died Saturday at age 57 in Honolulu of a stroke.
“He kind of fit the pattern of my father — the same way he was visionary and very faith-based and very generous, too,” said his brother Peter. “He always wanted to do big projects and big things.”
Although unable to physically be with him in the intensive care unit, two daughters, a niece and longtime friends and unlikely political allies who served together in the state Senate — Colleen Hanabusa, Jonathan Chun and Jan Buen — said their goodbyes to Matsuura, who was in a coma, via Zoom, a videoconferencing application.
Matsuura was part of the “Five Freshmen,” also dubbed the “Rat Pack,” which included Bob Nakata. Together the diverse group left their mark from 1999 to 2002 on the Senate by finding common positions, although they had varying reasons for their stances, and working to further them, even staging a coup against the Senate leadership.
The group helped to defeat the confirmation of Attorney General Margery Bronster.
The five would meet for breakfast once a week.
“That special bond we had lasted,” Hanabusa said. “He was the baby of the bunch, the youngest member, and to have him go first, that’s not easy.”
While chairing the Senate Health Committee, Matsuura, whose father died in 1997 after a battle with pancreatic and liver cancer, initially refused to hear the death-with-dignity bill and later heard the bill, but without the piece about medical aid in dying.
Matsuura, whose mother was a pediatrician, said health care professionals did not want the law changed and that advance care directives would allow for treatment to relieve pain even if it hastens death.
Matsuura ran a second successful campaign but lost to state Sen. Lorraine Inouye in 2002, in part because of the reapportionment of the district.
The Democrat took the unusual step in 2010 of endorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona.
“David was a very independent soul,” Hanabusa said. “He did what he thought was the right thing to do.”
She said political analyst Dan Boylan told her “he never understood the relationship because in his mind we were all so different. At the same time, because of that difference, we survived the interaction over time.”
Richard Matsuura started the orchid farm, and David ended up running Orchid Isle Nursery from 1985 until it closed due to foreign competition.
Peter Matsuura said their father was a horticultural missionary, part of the Green Revolution, which helped modernize agriculture and eliminate a lot of the hunger and starvation in India.
David Matsuura, born in 1963 in India, was second to the youngest and moved to Hilo in 1971 when his family returned there.
He later earned degrees in agricultural and managerial economics from the University of California, Davis.
“Dad did his own thing,” said Peter Matsuura, an orthopedic surgeon. “All the kids did whatever they were drawn to do. Dad didn’t groom him or any of us for politics.”
“In high school he was the big man on campus,” his brother said. “Everybody would tease him. He got a van, and I guess he would take a van full of girls around.
“He was a natural leader back then,” adding that he was charismatic.
Eventually, he got married and farmed.
Despite having Parkinson’s disease, Matsuura remained involved in the community, the church and a variety of businesses, his brother said. “He was extremely generous to a fault. He helped everybody — farmers, cattle ranchers, the logging community for koa. He was very good about connecting people.”
“He was the best daddy, husband and grandpa we could ever have asked for … and showed us the Father’s heart in everything he did,” daughter Grace Matsurra said.
Matsuura is survived by wife Liz; children Joy, Grace, Matthew, Faith and Hope; three grandchildren; mother Ruth; brothers Peter, Stephen and Andrew; and sisters Marlene and Caroline.