Retired sugar executive Cataluna dies at 77

LIHUE (AP) – Donald Bruce Cataluna, a retired sugar industry executive and former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, has died. He was 77.

Cataluna worked almost every sugar plantation job, from taking care of pack mules to managing some of the largest plantations in Hawaii. He spent his career with C. Brewer & Co. and was one of the industry’s first part-Hawaiian plantation managers.

Keith Smith, who worked with Cataluna at the Wailuku Sugar Co., told The Garden Island that his former supervisor was a trailblazer.

“In those days, the plantation managers were all Caucasian, and Don and another man, Herbert Gomez, were the first plantation managers of Hawaiian ancestry,” he wrote in an email. “It may not seem like much today, but it was a big deal then.”

Cataluna’s mother, Mabel Vidinha Cataluna, was half-Hawaiian, while his father, Francisco “Chico” Cataluna, was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He was born in Koloa and grew up swimming in Waita Reservoir, riding horses, picking pineapple during the summers and walking barefoot to Koloa School.

His daughter – teacher, playwright and former Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna – said Tuesday that the late University of Hawaii agriculture professor Kobe Shoji mentored her father and helped him get into a management training program. He liked to pay the favor forward by writing letters of recommendation, helping students find scholarships and otherwise helpig people get an education, she said.