Maui has lost the most competent and caring newspaper man ever to work on the island. Edwin Tanji died early Wednesday. He was the Honolulu Advertiser's Maui correspondent from 1974 until he became The Maui News city editor in 2000.
He made the switch largely because he thought he could do more for the island by working for Maui's hometown newspaper. Besides, editors in Honolulu had a habit of messing up his reports with ill-considered changes.
We first met around 1970 when management at the 'Tiser decided I needed copy desk experience. Up to that point I'd worked on the city desk and as graphics editor. Ed was assigned to teach me headline writing and layout. He wasn't thrilled about the task. Due to previous experience on the Mainland, my paycheck was larger than his. He complained to management and received a modest bump in pay but never said a word to me until years later.
Despite having vastly different personalities - he was always calm and collected while I was at the other end of spectrum - we became fast friends, sharing the same interests in motorcycles, jazz and newspapering.
When I snagged the Maui correspondent job, he had a request: "If you decide to give up the job, let me know ahead of time so I can get in position for it."
Although a Honolulu boy, Ed already loved the Maui he had experienced during vacations spent camping on her beaches. "No one bothers you," he said, "as long as you have a fishing pole stuck in the sand."
He came over the first month I was on the island. We climbed aboard my Triumph motorcycle and rode from Kihei to an Olinda party with a six-pack of beer balanced on the tank. The early-morning ride down the mountain was moonlit and required a great deal of concentration. It was one of those kind of parties.
Ed took over as the 'Tiser's Maui guy the next year and all of Maui County was the better for it. In succeeding decades he came to understand Maui better than most.
In our last conversation, I asked him if he planned to write his own obituary. He wouldn't have been the first newspaper man to do so. Ed made a face at the idea - too self-serving.
"What I want to be remembered for are the stories I did that made a difference," he said, mentioning state legislation that protects farmers when they are crowded by residential development and getting the media aware of what was happening on Molokai.
Covering Molokai required cultivating the trust of Walter Ritte and other members of the Hawaiian community. He smiled and said, "That's why I let my hair grow."
In addition to his ability to faithfully report local concerns, Ed was famous among other reporters for being able to skip long hours of county government hearings and pop in at just the right time to get the meat of the meeting. He spent as much or more time talking to secretaries and clerks as he did with their bosses.
We had the kind of friendship that didn't require maintenance but he was always there if I needed help rescuing a motorcycle from the middle of a cane field or supplying a bike or his truck when one of my motorcycles went south. Or . . .
Personal memories, in no particular order:
* Listening to him tell, with a certain amount of glee, about being a chaplain's assistant in Vietnam and helping soldiers get compassion leave or conscientious objector status.
* Eating bread he'd baked from scratch.
* Taking pictures of his marriage to Harolyn, a local girl with two young children, at sunrise on the top of Haleakala. He had to roust me out of bed to make sure I showed up in time. The ceremony began when the sun first appeared and ended when it had climbed clear of the horizon.
* Taking one of the most harrowing drives ever. He was towing a friend's car to Calasa's junkyard. I was in the car and couldn't see beyond the truck's tailgate. The friend was supposed to be watching me but instead was talking to Ed, who drove around curves as if I wasn't there.
* Watching his usually impassive face light up while showing off his infant daughter.
* Taking his picture in 1976 while he sat in the county Office of Information and Complaints. The photo hangs on a wall opposite my desk. His expression is a reminder to write and live as he did, with compassion and integrity.
This column doesn't do Edwin Tanji justice. I think my dear friend and colleague would understand.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.