HILO — Harold “Freddy” Rice, Big Island rancher and community activist, has died at the age of 83, according to his family.
whose family has lived in Hawaii for five generations, is best known
for his involvement in a controversial U.S. Supreme Court case
challenging race-based elections at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
1996, Rice challenged an OHA policy that limited voting eligibility for
the office’s Board of Trustees to Native Hawaiians. Citing the 15th
Amendment, which prohibits race-based voting discrimination, Rice sued.
Despite rulings against Rice by lower courts, Rice pressed his case, eventually reaching the Supreme Court.
“It took me a long time before I understood why he did it,” said Billy Bergin, an associate of Rice’s.
said Rice explained to him that the law would be challenged eventually
regardless of his involvement, and that, if the law was repealed in the
future, it might have jeopardized grants or other aid to the Hawaiian
knew that the Hawaiian community would be in a better position if the
law was challenged then, instead of later,” Bergin said.
the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rice in 2000, the legal battle was
controversial among the Hawaiian community, with some critics accusing
him of anti-Hawaiian sentiment.
Rice’s daughter, Morag Miranda, said her father embraced those who
disagreed with him despite social pressure against him.
loved the Hawaiian community,” Miranda said, describing how she grew up
surrounded by Hawaiian dictionaries as her father pushed himself to
learn the language of his neighbors.
the Supreme Court case, Rice had a passion for equestrianism — in
particular, the horseback sports of rodeo, roping and polo. Bergin said
Rice played a “seminal role” in the creation of the Kona-Ka‘u Roping and
Polo Club and the advancement of the state’s horse industry.
in his professional life, Rice pioneered grazing- and water-management
systems and techniques still used to this day, Bergin said.
managing ranches on Maui and the Big Island, Rice also established a
charter fishing business, catching several International Game Fish
Association world records, according to daughter Bonnie Rice.
was a hardworking man from before the sun rose each day to after the
sun went down,” Miranda said. “Even at 83, he would say, ‘Age is just a
number, I can do better, I can be faster.’”
Above all, Miranda said, Rice was a compassionate man always eager to help other people.
always did what he could to help people even if they couldn’t help him
back,” Miranda said. “I’m in awe of the stories we’re getting back from
across the world from people whose lives he touched.”
“When they needed a hand, he took their hand and helped them up,” Miranda said.
“Freddy was a wonderful role model and a great sportsman,” Bonnie Rice said. “It was a privilege to call him dad.”
Rice died Friday
of an apparent stroke on Maui, leaving behind his children, F. McGrew
Rice, Bonnie F. Rice, Morag R. Miranda, Sheena W. Golish, Lilah A. Ellis
and hanai daughter, Sienna Rodgers; his wife, Gail Rice, and former
wife, Sally H. Rice.