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Posted on Jan 15, 2018
Empty Saddles

Harold Freddy Rice 1934 - 2018



HILO — Harold “Freddy” Rice, Big Island rancher and community activist, has died at the age of 83, according to his family.

Rice, 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.

In 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.

Bergin 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explained to him that the law would be challenged eventually regardless of his involvement, and that, if the law was repealed in the future, it might have jeopardized grants or other aid to the Hawaiian community.

“He knew that the Hawaiian community would be in a better position if the law was challenged then, instead of later,” Bergin said.

Although 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.

However, Rice’s daughter, Morag Miranda, said her father embraced those who disagreed with him despite social pressure against him.

“He 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.

Beyond 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.

Meanwhile, in his professional life, Rice pioneered grazing- and water-management systems and techniques still used to this day, Bergin said.

While 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.

“He 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.

“He 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.

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