Longtime Maui businessman, philanthropist, rancher dies

David “Buddy” Nobriga ~ Dec. 7, 1926 – Nov. 8, 2017

David “Buddy” Nobriga – He was 90 years old

David “Buddy” Nobriga, a Hawaii cattleman whose career included leading a Wailuku soft drink and ice cream businesses, philanthropy and soil and water conservation, died Wednesday, his family said. He was 90 years old.

Services are pending.

“He was one of the few remaining icons in Maui County’s history,” said former Maui County Council Member Mike Victorino. He included Nobriga among such Maui leaders as the late former mayors Elmer Cravalho and Eddie Tam.

Nobriga also was known for his support of community institutions and causes, including St. Anthony Church and schools and the Maui County Fair and Jaycee carnival, Victorino said.

“His passing is a great loss for Maui County,” he said.

Nobriga, a resident of Kahakuloa, was widely regarded as an expert in Maui water resources, Victorino said. “He knew water systems probably better than anyone else.”

Nobriga served on the Maui County Board of Water Supply for 20 years, many years as chairman. He also held positions on the State Water Commission and in the Department of Agriculture.

He served for 54 years with the West Maui Soil & Conservation District, including 50 years as its chairman. He led the creation of the Honolua watershed, which protects the Napili area from flooding, and worked to clean up the ocean off of Kahana.

Nobriga served for decades with the Federal Land Bank Association of Hawai’i (now known as Farm Credit Services). He was a member for 36 years, 26 as chairman of the board.

Nobriga served on dozens of other community boards and his office walls and shelves barely had enough space to display his awards and accolades, including being inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame in 2001. He was named the Maui County Boy Scouts of America’s Distinguished Citizen in 2002, and he won the first Friend of Agriculture Award presented by the Hawaii Agriculture Conference in 2004. That year, he was Maui Weekly’s first Person of the Year. He won the 2008 Mayor’s Small Business Lifetime Achievement Award and in that year was named by The Maui News as one of its People Who Make a Difference. Later this month, he’ll be posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawai’i Cattlemen’s Council.

Nobriga’s grandfather, Antone, established the Nobriga Ranch as a family operation in Kahakuloa in 1930. In 1965, Buddy Nobriga and his father, Manuel, formed Nobriga’s Ranch Inc. Buddy Nobriga served as president and chairman since 1981.

For many years, Nobriga advocated for Hawaii’s cattlemen at both the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C. He lobbied for and provided language for many pieces of legislation, including laws that provided for the promotion of beef products and meat inspection. He helped form the Maui Cattleman’s Association in 1970 and served as its president for 10 years and was president of the Hawai’i Cattlemen’s Council for four years.

Wailuku Water Co. President Avery Chumbley said Nobriga was a preeminent cattleman in Hawaii and he doubts there’s anyone living who has a much knowledge and experience with Maui water issues.

Once when Chumbley was president of Wailuku Sugar Co. and consulted with Nobriga about the location for drilling a well in Waikapu, “I was so far off it was ridiculous,” he said. But Nobriga pinpointed, within a few hundred feet, the best location for a well.

Chumbley hired a hydrologist and found that Nobriga was right. “I didn’t need to hire a hydrologist,” he said.

Nobriga also was a leader in soil conservation and storm runoff issues, and he was one of the original board members for the old Maui County Fair, Chumbley said.

Nobriga’s career started in 1941 when he was a freshman at St. Anthony School and worked part time at Maui Soda & Ice Works, a company founded in 1888 and purchased by the Nobriga family in 1946. The company continues today, bottling and distributing Coca-Cola and other related soda products and manufacturing Roselani Ice Cream.

Nobriga’s high school years were interrupted by World War II. He was drafted in 1944, but the war ended before he was ordered into combat.

Back on Maui, he completed his high school education and went to work for the family businesses.

When his father, Manuel, retired from Maui Soda in 1971, Buddy Nobriga became president and 10 years later he was chief executive officer. Today, Catherine Nobriga Kim is general manager and the other four Nobriga siblings all work at the company. Buddy Nobriga “retired officially” in 1998, but he remained chairman of the board of directors, and was at his desk early every morning. He also had the biggest office, something his five children were fond of pointing out.

Nobriga’s wife, Barbara, died in 2015. The couple had been married for 62 years.

Nobriga was fiercely loyal to Coke, and even mentioning its leading competitor could be risky.

Chumbley remembered that when he served as the last director of the Maui County Fair Racing Association he wanted to give an “equal opportunity to Coca-Cola and Pepsi.”

And, at just hearing the name of that other drink, Nobriga “turned beet red, and you could see he was steaming mad at me,” Chumbley recalled. “It took some time for us to repair that relationship.”

Later, when Chumbley decided to start ranching, he brought in Texas longhorns, and Nobriga told him he “ought to be raising angus” cattle, he remembered. “He’s always been an angus guy.”

“He did a lot to advance ranching throughout the state,” Chumbley said.

Former Council Member Gladys Baisa, now deputy director of the county Department of Water Supply, said she got to know Nobriga when she started working at Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. in 1969. Nobriga was board president and worked closely with then-Executive Director Joe Souki on getting the agency established.

Nobriga “did a lot for MEO,” she said, as well as being an advocate for ranching and agriculture.

“We’re losing our history,” she said. “He will be remembered fondly. He left a legacy.”

Nobriga’s five children represent the fifth generation of Nobrigas on Maui, all descendants of Portuguese immigrants who came to Hawaii in 1886.

Eldest son Michael Nobriga, vice president of Maui Soda, said his father was a “giant of a man, not just to our family but to our community, and he will be very sadly missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.”

Catherine Nobriga Kim said that “although we are heartbroken, we are grateful to have had him in our lives. What we will remember every day is that he taught us, first and foremost, how to be good people.”

Nobriga is survived by his five children (Michael, Catherine, David, Robert and Jay), eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.