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Former Maui County corporation counsel Fred Rohlfing dies at 89

Prominent Republican and former state lawmaker was loved by many, including Democrats

Fred Rohlfing and his and late wife, Patricia, are shown in this undated photo. Fred Rohlfing, a former Maui County corporation counsel and state legislator, died Friday on Oahu. He was 89.

Fred Rohlfing, a former Maui County corporation counsel and a Republican who was liked even by Democrats, died on Friday on Oahu, his family said.

The former Kula resident and state legislator on Oahu was 89 years old. He died due to complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his son, Frederick “Fritz” Rohlfing, an attorney on Oahu.

In 2010 Fritz’s father published a memoir and commentary, “Island Son, The Life and Times of Hawaii’s Republican Reformer,” which was hailed even by Karl Rove, a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Even as a Republican in a blue state, Rohlfing was loved by many.

“He loved his family first. He was a lawyer second. And he was a Republican third,” said attorney and Democrat Lee Ohigashi, who worked as a Maui County deputy corporation counsel under Rohlfing decades ago.

Ohigashi said that even though Rohlfing was a “through and through Republican,” the two got along.

“We never discussed politics,” said Ohigashi, who now is in private practice in Wailuku.

Ohigashi called Rohlfing a “great man” and also a skilled waterman who surfed.

“I remember him being a good lawyer and a great teacher. He taught me a lot.”

Kihei resident Madge Schaefer, who met Rohlfing while serving with him on the Maui Advisory Council to the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission in the early 2000s, said: “He was just a dear. He loved this country. He loved this state.”

“He had a twinkle in his eye you couldn’t miss. He was fair. He was funny in a dry sense of humor,” Schaefer recalled.

The two were named among The Maui News’ People Who Made A Difference in 2001 for their efforts to have the reapportionment commission drop nonresident military dependents from the population count and keep each county in the state whole, sinking a plan for state legislative canoe districts. Under the plan, a single legislator would represent islands in two different counties. The method, if left in place, would have watered down Neighbor Island representation in the state Legislature.

In 1984, Rohlfing moved to Maui and worked as a deputy corporation counsel for the county. Later, he was promoted to head Maui County civil attorneys as corporation counsel with the administration of Mayor Hannibal Tavares, said Fritz Rohlfing.

Fred Rohlfing continued to live on Maui after retirement and was active in the community until around 2013 or 2014, when he moved back to Oahu, his son said. The elder Rohlfing had lived with his wife, Patricia, until she died in 2011. The couple lived in Kula near Crater Road.

Fritz Rohlfing said his father moved to Maui not to just take the job but to get away from the hustle and bustle of Oahu.

“It was getting too urban and too crowded for him, he liked the idea of moving to Maui.”

Fred Rohlfing was born in 1928 on Oahu. He was a graduate of Punahou School, Yale University and George Washington Law School. He remained in the Naval Intelligence Reserve for 33 years after serving on active duty at the Pentagon during the Korean War, according to his book. He was elected as a Republican to the Hawaii’s first state Legislature after statehood. He served 21 years in the state House and Senate.

He ran for Congress for Oahu’s 1st District twice, but lost in close races, his book said.

He later served as an attorney general and Honolulu liaison officer for American Samoa and two terms as U.S. alternate representative to the South Pacific Commission (New Caledonia).

He retired from Maui County and the Naval Reserve in the late 1980s. He was awarded the U.S. Meritorious Service medal.

Even in retirement, he served as a federal magistrate judge, a member of the Maui Reapportionment Advisory Council, the Maui County Salary Commission and the Statewide Health Coordinating Council.

Fritz Rohlfing said his father was active with the Republican Party through the 2016 election when it got difficult for him to get around.

“It’s just strange not to have him (around),” Fritz Rohlfing said.

“I can’t call him up and call him about the elections. He read the paper every day and watched the news and everything,” said the younger Rohlfing, who, like his father, is active in the Republican Party in Hawaii. Fritz Rohlfing is a former Hawaii Republican Party chairman.

When asked how his father dealt with being a member of the minority political party, Fritz said his father had told him: “Once you are elected, you represent all the constituents in your district. Not just one political party. I think that was the key.”

Fred was an athlete. He played football and baseball at Punahou. He played football and swam at Yale. He was a master swimmer in his senior years.

He was an avid fan of the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team and University of Hawaii football.

Rohlfing is survived by sons Frederick “Fritz” (Deon) Rohlfing and Karl (Patricia) Rohlfing; two stepdaughters, Alice Newkirk and Michele Bond; and six grandchildren, Renate Rohlfing, Navy Lt. and Dr. Frederick Rohlfing, Markus Rohlfing, Marissa Wicklund, Rachel Newkirk and Rebecca Newkirk.

Services are pending.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.