Edwin Tanji, a former Maui News city editor, is being remembered as one of Hawaii's "pre-eminent" journalists who was very intelligent, adventurous and even-keeled under pressure.
Surrounded by his family, Tanji died from cancer early Wednesday morning at his Kahului home, said his wife, Harolyn.
He was 65. Services are pending.
Former Maui News City Editor Edwin Tanji works at his desk in this undated photo. Tanji, who spent more than 40 years in journalism in Hawaii, died Wednesday morning. He was 65.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"He was a wonderful father and husband," Harolyn Tanji said fighting back tears. "He enjoyed his job, his passion for writing and he always believed in helping everybody."
Former Maui News Editor-in-Chief David Hoff, who spent more than eight years working with Tanji, said in an email: "Ed Tanji was the pre-eminent journalist in Hawaii for some 40 years bar none. As a reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser and then city editor for The Maui News, he set the standard of how the craft of journalism should be practiced. He took pride in the profession because he believed it to be vitally important to the everyday lives of people in the community.
"Ed was also the smartest person I ever worked with, and the breadth of his knowledge and interests knew no bounds. If there ever was a subject he could not intelligently discuss, I have no idea what it is," Hoff added.
Harolyn Tanji said that her husband was "very intense" when it came to journalism.
"He loved writing; he loved the challenge of it all. He figured this out when he was in high school this is what he wanted to do. He pursued it and (was) always looking for new things and new adventures."
Tanji retired from The Maui News in 2009, but continued to blog and write columns for the paper.
His column "Haku Mo'olelo" runs on Fridays. He has penned three more columns for the paper.
Prior to his more-than-eight-year stint at The Maui News, Tanji was the Honolulu Advertiser's longtime Maui County bureau chief. He was the Advertiser's Neighbor Islands editor prior to moving to Maui.
Tanji first broke into the Hawaii journalism scene while interning at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. It later turned into a part-time position in 1968.
After serving a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, he returned to Hawaii in 1970 to complete his degree and was hired by the Honolulu Advertiser as a copy editor.
Throughout his career, Tanji covered many stories. He was among the first reporters to write about the Protect Kaho'olawe Ohana and the movement to stop military bombing of Kahoolawe.
In a retirement interview with The Maui News in 2009, Tanji reflected on his reporting of Kahoolawe and said that his trademark ponytail he sported back then served as an icebreaker with members of activist groups who had an easier time speaking to him versus reporters with stuffed shirts.
Walter Ritte, a leader of the Protect Kaho'olawe Ohana, called Tanji a "strategist" and someone who understood how government worked.
"He would explain to us how the system works and what we should be doing. We were all naive from Molokai," Ritte said Wednesday.
When asked what he remembers about Tanji, Ritte said: "The first thing that comes to my mind is the vision of us sitting at the old Maui Palms by the swimming pool late at night. When the moon was shining . . . (we were) drinking some beer and talking politics."
About a week before he died, Tanji told several Maui News staffers that one of his stories he was most proud of is one that he did about Hulopoe Bay on Lanai.
Tanji said those on boats in the bay had said they were not dumping sewage in the area, but Tanji, along with government officials, had taken it upon themselves to check it out. They went into the water to investigate.
Tanji said they looked around and found remnants of toilet paper and also human waste.
Reports of the pollution changed how Hulopoe Bay was regulated, Tanji said.
His reporting skills resonated with public officials.
"Ed was a taskmaster when it came to covering government for the news. His attitude was, if you're going to volunteer and run for office and get elected, then you better do the work," said Mayor Alan Arakawa in an email statement. "He expected people to live up to their commitments. He always lived up to his. He was always fair when he wrote his articles and you could always count on him to be very objective and accurate."
Arakawa said that he and Tanji also knew each other outside their professions because both of their daughters attended Baldwin High School at the same time. Arakawa remembers washing dishes with Tanji during a school fundraiser.
Outside of work, Tanji loved being outdoors.
He grew up in Kaimuki, Oahu, and said in a Maui News internal newsletter that he liked surfing and hiking and camped at Hanauma Bay.
Even while living on Oahu, Tanji made trips to Maui in the early 1970s and was taken on hikes into the crater, on the Skyline trail to Polipoli and parts of the King's trail to Nu'u.
He took his family camping in Kipahulu.
When he moved to Maui permanently in the '70s, he already had friends on Maui and made many others.
One of the friends Tanji made was with longtime insurance businessman Tom Cerizo, who then worked for a telecommunications carrier.
The Honolulu Advertiser was one of his clients, and he and Tanji struck up a friendship at Tanji's office on Church Street in Wailuku.
Cerizo said that Tanji had long hair and had round glasses and wore a headband.
"He looked like John Lennon," Cerizo said.
Tanji lived on Vineyard Street and drove a motorcycle. But if it rained, Tanji drove his Volkswagen station wagon.
Cerizo said that he and Tanji both loved their wines and beers and had even taken a couple of trips to Napa Valley and Sonoma in California to visit wineries there.
"We really enjoyed it. Ed wanted to do another again."
Cerizo said that although Tanji wasn't a gambler the two would bet on football, with Tanji always winning more of the bets than Cerizo. The two would wager dinners rather than money.
He added that Tanji read everything and researched everything about football, and that probably contributed to his winning about 65 percent of the time.
Tanji met his wife, Harolyn Shimoda, the daughter of the late Harold Shimoda, a foreman at Waihee Dairy, through friends.
Harolyn Tanji recalls that she and another friend were supposed to go out on a double date with Ed. When she and others went to Ed's house, "he was baking bread when we got there."
She said that because they were late, Ed occupied his time by baking.
"I thought a guy who bakes bread, that's pretty good," Harolyn Tanji said of her first impression of her husband.
Ed Tanji would continue to bake bread but only during Christmas for the Tanjis' annual open house.
She added that her husband loved to cook. Maui News staffers recently enjoyed one of Ed Tanji's pies that he made for Hoff's retirement party.
Harolyn Tanji said that her husband was very considerate and caring and always supported her in her profession. She was a longtime nurse at Maui Memorial Medical Center who worked long and odd hours and at times was on call.
"He would always take care of the kids and fix them breakfast in the morning and get them off to school if I wasn't there," she said.
Ed Tanji leaves behind two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.
Harolyn Tanji reflected on her husband's ability to stay calm in chaotic and high-stress situations.
It was also something most of his Maui News staff admired and appreciated.
"He said if you can't do anything about it, no sense worry. He just never got frazzled. Which is always a nice thing," she said.
In his retirement interview with The Maui News, Tanji said that his most rewarding experience as a city editor was working with young reporters and watching them succeed.
He even tutored at least one young reporter with her writing on the weekends.
"Ed Tanji was a consummate professional," Maui News Publisher Joe Bradley said in a statement.
"He was an excellent reporter, editor and teacher. He mentored all our young writers. Ed was kind, generous and a true gentleman. We were all blessed to have worked with him."
* Staff Writer Melissa Tanji is not related to Ed Tanji.
She can be reached at email@example.com.