Claro Capili Sr. is perhaps best remembered as the Maui County managing director who served as interim mayor in mid- to late 1979, from the end of one mayor's abbreviated administration to the beginning of another's 11-year reign.
Capili led the county during a United Public Workers strike. But such a historic footnote fails to tell the life story of the 90-year-old man who died April 12 under hospice care at his home in Kahului, leaving a grieving wife of 67 years, family and friends.
"He was a highly principled man in community and public service," said attorney Antonio Ramil, the author of "Kalai 'Aina: County of Maui," a history of county politics from 1900 to the early 1980s. "I knew him pretty well. . . . He was straightforward in his statements of his views."
Claro Capili Sr. sits at his desk while serving as managing director of Maui County in the late 1970s. In July 1979, he stepped in as interim mayor after the resignation of former Mayor Elmer Cravalho. His service as mayor ended when Hannibal Tavares was sworn in as mayor in November 1979.
Capili family photo
CLARO CAPILI SR.
A photo shows Claro Capili Sr. when he was 19 years old, shortly after he left the Philippines to join the merchant marine. He moved to Maui after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Capili family photo
During the administration of former Mayor Elmer Cravalho, Capili was appointed deputy director of the Department of Public Works in 1975, deputy managing director in 1977 and managing director in 1978. Then, on July 24, 1979, Cravalho resigned, and Capili stepped in as acting mayor until Hannibal Tavares was sworn into office as mayor on Nov. 9, 1979.
"He was top man for a while," Ramil said last week. And Capili was much admired in the Filipino community for his character and for achieving a high position in county government.
"He was a role model in many ways," he said. "He was one of the pioneering Filipinos in government service."
Under Mayor Tavares, Capili served as a senior executive assistant and retired from government service in the mid-1980s, according to his family.
Capili was born in Manila on Aug. 12, 1922. After graduating from National Business School in Manila, he joined the merchant marine and left the Philippines on his 19th birthday. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1942, serving nearly three years and eight months in active duty, including service during fierce fighting with Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.
He rose to the rank of technical sergeant, working in combat areas to supervise the loading and unloading of military supplies. He earned the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Later, he served in the Hawaii National Guard, eventually promoted to the rank of major in May 1960.
He moved to Maui after the war and married the former Maxima Balmores in January 1946. They had three children - Patricia Ann, Claro Jr. and James. The couple lived next door to the Suyat family in Kahului, adopting their five children as hanai grandchildren.
Claro Capili Jr. said his father was "strict, but fair."
"He was a shining example of what is right," he said. "He always loved his family and his friends, always tried to take care of others and do what is right."
Before entering government service, Capili was Maui branch manager for Love's Bakery, according to information from his family. He was appointed to the Maui County Police Commission in February 1965 and served as its chairman from January to November 1968.
He was president for two terms of the Maui Young Democrats, was a member of the county Board of Efficiency and Economy and a member of the state's Maui Memorial Hospital Managing Committee.
His community service on Maui included being president of the Christ the King Parent-Teachers Guild, president of the Kahului Filipino Catholic Club, president of the Maui Filipino Community Council, president of the Maui Filipino Catholic Council, president of the Diocesan Congress of Filipino Catholic Clubs, vice president of the United Filipino Council (state of Hawaii), secretary of the Maui Junior Chamber of Commerce and president of the Polo Ballroom Club.
While Maui residents saw Capili as a devoted public servant, members of his family saw another side of him.
Capili's hanai granddaughter, Stacy Woodson, said Capili "had a great smile, and he shared it often."
"He had a sharp memory, a great sense of humor and was very sociable," she said. "All of this combined made him a terrific storyteller. He loved to tell stories. He made for a good master of ceremonies and was asked to host many events and parties."
Woodson said Capili also was a model husband.
"I love the way he loved grandma," she said. "He spoke so lovingly of her. Always respected her and treated her like his angel."
Hanai grandson Joshua Suyat said Capili showed him his work ethic.
"No one worked harder then him," he said. "I remember as a teenager I used to be tired of working all day in his garden and wanted to stop and he always just kept going. Even in his 80s."
Another hanai grandchild, Adam Suyat, now a U.S. Army major, has created a scholarship for students in honor of his grandparents, the "Claro Sr. and Maxima Capili Gift of Aloha." It is open to all Maui resident high-school seniors seeking special training for a career or a college education.
A memorial service is set for April 29 at Christ the King Church in Kahului. Public viewing will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by a program and Mass from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Burial will take place at Makawao Veterans Cemetery at 12:30 p.m. The family requests aloha attire.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation be made to the scholarship fund. Send donations to the Gift of Aloha, P.O. Box 13388, Des Moines, Wash. 98198.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.