Longtime First Hawaiian Bank executive Anthony R. Guerrero Jr., who rose through the ranks to vice chairman before retiring in 2010, died Thursday in The Queen’s Medical Center after suffering a massive stroke in late March.
The energetic Guerrero, 76, spent 42 years at the state’s largest bank but never forgot his roots and was affectionately known as “Ants” by his Waianae Coast friends and fellow surfers. He and his wife of 54 years, Haunani, lived in a house on Makaha Beach and he always found time for surfing, canoe paddling and stand-up paddling.
“When he was young, my mother nicknamed him ‘Ants’ for Anthony, because he had so much energy and was always running around like he had ants in his pants,” said Momi Keaulana, Guerrero’s hanai sister.
First Hawaiian Chairman and CEO Bob Harrison announced Guerrero’s death to employees with “a very heavy heart.”
“Tony’s energy, passion and humor were contagious,” Harrison said. “His love of the bank can only be matched by the love that so many of us had for him. Our beloved Uncle Tony was a big part of the ‘heart and soul’ of the bank. Through the concepts he spoke of and embodied — Kin‘ole (doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time); Malama (with care); and Lokahi (in unity and together), he left a lasting impression on our bank’s culture.”
Guerrero was anything but a stuffy, old-fashioned banker. With his impish sense of humor, a happy-go-lucky hula style and boisterous singing, he was the gregarious life of every party — many of them at his house on Makaha Beach.
Retired First Hawaiian Chairman and CEO Walter A. Dods Jr., who led the bank while Guerrero ran the branch system, said: “People downtown tended to underestimate Tony because he was more comfortable surfing with his buddies on the Waianae Coast, but they soon found out they were wrong.
“He continued to surprise people. He was a force of nature, a legend. At the bank we used to say ‘Hawaiian is more than our middle name,’ and Tony was the biggest reason for that. He was Hawaiian at heart, to his core. And people don’t realize all the ways he gave back to the community.”
Guerrero took unpaid leadership roles on boards of directors that ranged from Oahu Transit Services Inc, which manages TheBus, and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, to the Sony Open and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, where he trained with the original crew aboard Hokule‘a.
He devoted much of his time to improving the lives of Waianae Coast residents. As the longtime board chairman of the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Guerrero helped build it into the largest federally qualified health center in Hawaii while bridging traditional Hawaiian healing practices with Western medicine.
“It’s not just a clinic, it’s a healing center and a health academy,” he once said.
“Our Uncle Tony always looked for what was best for our community and for our health center,” said Rich Bettini, president and CEO of the health center. “Whenever difficult decisions had to be made, we called Tony, who had a wise way of listening, then advising the best course to take. And he was surely right.”
Guerrero also loved golf and had served as president of Waialae Country Club. He was one of the driving forces behind keeping a PGA event at the club when the tournament’s future was in jeopardy, helping the Hawaiian Open transition to the Sony Open in Hawaii in 1999. The annual event supports local charities.
“My dad was my hero, my best friend, my confidant,” said Guerrero’s son, Kaipo. “I always wanted to make him proud. He had such a broad reach. He was part of the banking community, the community of paddlers, the surfing community through what he did for local amateur surfing, the Saint Louis School community, the Waianae health center community, the Waialae Country Club community. So many circles.”
When Guerrero was in his early 60s, he and Kaipo stand-up paddled together across the Molokai Channel in 6 1/2 hours. as As a member of a six-man Waikiki Surf Club canoe crew, the elder Guerrero paddled the same channel from Molokai to Oahu more than two dozen times over the years, taking first place several times.
Guerrero graduated from Saint Louis School and supported his alma mater for his entire life. He served on boards raising money for the Kaimuki school and leading its active alumni association.
He earned his college degree in industrial management from the University of Portland. The same month he graduated in 1967, Guerrero was hired as a management trainee at First Hawaiian and began climbing the ladder until eventually he was in charge of the bank’s 63 branches.
In addition to his wife and son, Guerrero is survived by his daughter, Kaui, and grandchildren Giselle Kananiokekai Guerrero, Raquel Kekamakahiauokalani Guerrero and Anthony Kekahimoku Guerrero.
Plans for a memorial service are on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. Those wishing to honor his memory may send donations to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.