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Former South Maui state Rep. Joseph Bertram III dies

Community holds tree planting in his honor

JOE BERTRAM III – Former South Maui House member

His smile, compassion and rubber slippers.

That’s how friends and family of former state Rep. Joseph “Joe” William Bertram III are fondly remembering the greenway, bikeway and marijuana advocate who died on Sunday under hospice care. He was 63.

A celebration of life is pending, his family said Wednesday afternoon.

“The most prominent and endearing trait of Joe B3 was his ever-constant smile and positive demeanor, even in the most grueling battles,” said South Maui community advocate Buck Joiner, who visited Bertram hours before his passing. “He was an exceptional visionary looking decades ahead to create and preserve a community with an interlaced network of walking and biking trails for the health of the community and the environment.”

Joiner said he and Bertram had been promoting a roundabout at the intersection below Kihei Safeway long before either road was built.

Wendy Osher interviews state Rep. Joseph “Joe” William Bertram III after the primary election on Sept. 18, 2010. He would lose his seat in the general election to Republican George Fontaine. The Maui News file photo

Attorney and friend Lance Collins called the Kihei Greenway/South Maui Bike Path one of the more well-known of Bertram’s accomplishments, which was included as an idea in the 1985 Kihei-Makena Community Plan.

The Maui Veterans Highway bike paths were the “first real fruits” of Bertram’s advocacy. The Kihei Greenway bikeway and path is also being built in phases and is now in design for Phase 3 from Waipuilani Road to Kaonoulu Street, Collins said.

“Joey was a visionary. He looked to Maui’s past to pattern a future that was self-reliant, environmentally compatible and economically fair and just. He was deeply compassionate and would always look for the positive in any problem as the likely path to its solution,” Collins said in an email Wednesday.

In a tribute to Bertram, Collins wore rubber slippers, shorts and a wrinkled aloha shirt to a special tree-planting ceremony for Bertram on Wednesday near the Mana Kai Resort, where, ironically, much of the Bertram family had worked at one time or another. Bertram’s sister, Gayle Ann Lewis, said her brother never cared to make a fashion statement and that Collins’ attire was exactly what Bertram would wear.

When elected to the state House, representing District 11 that covered Kihei, Wailea and Makena, in 2006, Bertram joked that he had to give up his rubber slippers for shoes.

Bertram’s win as a Democrat in 2006 created an all-Democratic delegation of Maui County legislators. He took the old seat of Republican Chris Halford, who decided not to seek re-election.

Bertram held office from 2007 to 2011, and lost to Republican George Fontaine in the 2010 general election.

At the Legislature, Bertram pushed for measures supporting the rights of workers, minors and the LGBTQ community; the legalization of marijuana; transportation and planning projects and “many others mundane and controversial,” said Collins.

He added that the first bill Bertram co-introduced in the Legislature that became law was Act 23 of 2007, which established Sept. 21 as Peace Day in Hawaii, making it the first state in the U.S. to do so. Hawaii joined more than 200 countries that have recognized Peace Day since it was first established by the United Nations in 1981, Collins added.

Current District 11 state Rep. Tina Wildberger, who spearheaded the special tree planting Wednesday, said that she was “honored to carry on the issues championed by Rep. Joe Bertram.”

“He was a pioneer in advocating for greenways and bikeways, for more walkable, bikeable South Maui,” Wildberger said. “A decade ago, his ideas were ‘outside the box,’ and he worked diligently to get these concepts written into our community plan.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino called Bertram “a public servant and a strong advocate for greenways, open space, bikeways and improved public transportation.”

“We are working with South Maui elected officials to come up with a fitting tribute to him; something that would recall how much he cared about the environment and the beauty of our island home,” Victorino said.

Bertram at one point was a member of the Green Party of Hawaii and had run unsuccessfully for Maui County Council. He was also the director for Greenways Maui and participated in many community organizations, such as the Kihei Community Association and Kihei Youth Center, among others.

“His passion for making our beloved community a walkable, bikeable neighborhood never waned,” KCA President Mike Moran said in a message to members. “To this day, KCA is driven to continue forward with this goal in his honor. Imua our friend.”

As an openly gay public official with HIV, Bertram was always blazing a path.

In his younger years in the 1970s, Bertram became one of the first boys to attend Seabury Hall, which had only been open to girls at the time, Lewis said. But Bertram, who was on scholarship, later went back to Baldwin High School, because he was playing around too much at the private school, his sister said.

Bertram also attended Kihei School and the University of Hawaii. He worked as a waiter and a busboy.

In December 2013, Bertram wed his lifelong partner, Albert Morairty, “in one of the first gender-equal marriages on Maui,” according to an announcement in The Maui News.

Lewis said her brother, whom she knew as “Joey,” was always kind and caring.

“I never saw a bad attitude, ever,” she recalled.

Bertram’s older brother, Jeffery, remembered the kindness his brother showed.

When the younger Bertram’s belongings got stolen from the beach or when he lost his wallet, he would say that the other person needed it more than he did.

Jeffery Bertram was saddened that his brother’s life had been cut short.

“I miss that he wasn’t able to do the things he really wanted to do. He had lots of goals,” he said.

One of those remaining goals was to make the ancient King’s Trail walkable all around Maui.

Jeffery Bertram said his brother likely died due to pneumonia and complications from AIDS, which Bertram held at bay for decades through medical marijuana and a special diet.

Joe Bertram III was predeceased by his husband, Morairty and father, Joseph William Bertram Jr.

He is also survived by his mother, Esther Bertram; brother, Jeffery (Alma) Bertram; sister, Gayle Ann (James) Lewis and nephew Seth Lewis.

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

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