WAILUKU Johnny Baldwin's roots ran deep into Maui's missionary past, but when he reached out - most often quietly and behind the scenes - it was with a spirit of giving.
Baldwin, a fifth-generation descendant of the Rev. Dr. Dwight Baldwin and great-grandson of Henry Perrine Baldwin and grandson of Frank F. Baldwin, died Wednesday at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu. He had been struggling with lung cancer. He was 71.
"He was a really low-key, behind-the-scenes kind of guy. He didn't like publicity," said longtime friend Fred Bush, who had been friends with Baldwin since they were 4 years old. "If 10 percent of the people on Maui had a clue how much money he personally has given to the community . . . they would be absolutely amazed at the number."
Baldwin family photo
Johnny Baldwin plays his banjo. Baldwin died Wednesday in Honolulu. He was 71.
Among the many organizations to receive support from Baldwin were Seabury Hall, Doris Todd Memorial Christian School, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, the Maui Family YMCA and the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center, Bush said.
Hui No'eau board President John Hoxie said that Baldwin's death is "a huge loss for the hui, and I think for our community."
Baldwin was responsible for the restoration of the hui's Kaluanui building in 1996, and he played a major role in purchasing the hui's property in Makawao a few years ago from Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Hoxie said.
"It's safe to say that without the support of Johnny Baldwin and others, but Johnny Baldwin in particular, Maui would not have the hui," he said.
Writer Laurel Murphy, who has been researching a book about the Baldwin family, interviewed Johnny Baldwin as part of her project.
"He was a wonderful interview," she said, adding that he was modest, kind and unassuming. "He wore the mantle of being a Baldwin lightly."
His home, in Olinda near Seabury Hall, is called "Elua Palms" and is "one of the great houses of Maui," Murphy said.
"It was falling to pieces, and he presided over the restoration of it," she said.
Baldwin also owned numerous commercial properties in Makawao on Baldwin Avenue, including the Matsui Building.
Murphy said that Baldwin was adamant about preserving historic buildings on Maui.
Baldwin was born April 13, 1938, at Paia Hospital. He was the son of Asa Baldwin, manager of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. His mother was Virginia "Tootie" Castle, a descendant of another prominent missionary family in Hawaii. She was the daughter of Harold K.L. Castle, who was descended from one of the founders of Castle & Cooke. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center's main 1,200-seat theater is named after Harold Castle because Baldwin was among the first contributors to the building of the venue for movies and live performances.
"I'm really, really sorry to lose Johnny," said Karen Fischer, president and chief executive officer of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. "He was a unique individual and a Maui original. As I told our board, he had a huge heart and a rascal soul. He was a very decent person."
Baldwin had been a longtime member of the board of directors for the cultural center.
"He had been on the board as long as I've been here," Fischer said. "He was on the facility committee. He was a key part of our facility master plan that led to the current construction that we're in.
"He was very generous, both personally and through the H.K.L. Castle Foundation, which is why Castle Theater is named what it is. And he played a great banjo."
Mary C. "Maizie" Sanford, Baldwin's cousin and former Maui News publisher, said she saw him at a fundraiser for Montessori School a couple of months ago.
"He told me he had cancer, but he looked pretty good," she said. "He was always shy and very pleasant, not like some of the other Baldwins. He liked to do things with his hands.
"His death is a great loss for Maui," she said.
Kelvin Taketa, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Community Foundation, said Baldwin's loss will be felt statewide as he was trustee for two major foundations - the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.
Both foundations have been major contributors to a variety of causes statewide, he said, adding that those included public and private schools and marine conservation projects.
Baldwin also was president of the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation.
"It's a huge loss for Maui and the larger community of Hawaii," Taketa said. "He was such a wonderful person, funny, irreverent. He had such a big heart.
"He helped so many organizations and causes in Hawaii," he said. But "he never wanted the attention and the limelight."
Murphy said Baldwin's generosity was a strong theme in his life.
"Johnny Baldwin had a heart of gold," she said. "He was one of those people you could call on and ask for help, and, more often than not, my sense is the answer was yes.
"Johnny's generosity ran very deep," she said.
As a businessman, Baldwin founded Haleakala Storage and Transfer Co., which later became Kahului Trucking Co., according to his son Jeremy Baldwin. For a number of years, he also ran a charter fishing business, taking tourists out for sport fishing trips.
Baldwin also was a member of a band, playing banjo for the Turpentine Cats.
Longtime friend Bush, also in the band as a guitar player, said the group met regularly and played a wide range of music, including folk, country western, light rock and golden oldies.
On Thursday night, the band members got together and played without their banjo player.
"By golly, we got together and played anyway because he would have wanted us to," Bush said. "Nobody was in tears. Nobody was sad. . . . While his chair was empty, his banjo was there. Everybody felt he was there."
Baldwin is survived by his wife, Debby; three sons, Jeremy Baldwin, Dr. Kittredge Baldwin and Thomas Baldwin; a brother, Michael Baldwin; and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.