One of the first Haleakala National Park rangers to serve in Kipahulu, Eddie Pu was remembered by park officials and family members Friday as a man with a warm smile and a calming voice whose altruism and aloha for others extended to risking his own life to save others.
He once jumped into the ocean off Oheo to save a Saudi ambassador, his wife and their son who had been washed out to sea by a flash flood. Pu was honored personally by President Gerald Ford for his heroism.
Others recalled his annual solitary treks around the island, the lessons learned from this humble and simple man, the scholarships he gave to Hana High School students from the sales of coconut weaving creations at a stand alongside the road.
EDDIE PU, ‘Mr. Aloha’
The man, known by many in Hana as "Mr. Aloha," died Friday morning at his home, after a several-year bout with emphysema. He was 83 years old.
"He was just one of the best interpreters that the park service has ever had," said Matt Brown, acting superintendent for Haleakala National Park on Friday.
"He had such a passion for sharing his culture and sharing the beauty of the national park with everybody who came to Kipahulu," said Brown. "He was great ranger."
There is a feeling of sadness at the park with his passing "but lots of positive thoughts about the incredible contributions he made to his community, his culture and the National Park Service," he said.
Pu joined the park service in Kipahulu in 1972 - one of the first rangers in the district - after 21 years as a lifeguard at Hamoa Beach, according to the book "Haleakala: A History of the Maui Mountain," written by former Maui News reporter Jill Engledow.
His skills as a lifeguard turned out to be valuable at Oheo where heavy rains in the mountains suddenly generate flash floods that can threaten visitors in calm pools below.
Pu's youngest child, Vance, recalled his dad talking about jumping into the ocean to save the Saudi ambassador, his wife and son in the mid-1970s. Pu told his son that he was so fatigued as he swam for the last of the three, the child, that he thought he might go down into the depths of the sea.
" 'If this is my time, so be it,' " Vance Pu said his dad thought.
Then a big wave came and he and the child rode it to shore. The child had to be resuscitated but survived.
That was his dad in a nutshell, always giving to others, said his son. If he was going to go, "at least he was doing it saving another," said Vance Pu.
His "aloha spirit" was a common thread mentioned among family members interviewed Friday about their dad and granddad, who retired from his job as a ranger in 1999.
"He loved people. People loved him," said granddaughter Mandee Kahalehoe. "He just had a way with people, with strangers that he never knew."
Kanani Kahalehoe remembered how her dad would open up their home to strangers. They would stay days, weeks, months, even a year.
"In Hana, he is known as Mr. Aloha," she said. "He is always greeting strangers he didn't know."
He cared about his community as well.
Mandee Kahalehoe recalled her grandfather coconut weaving fish, hats, stars and birds and selling them at a stand along the roadside. The money he raised, about $500, would go to a scholarship for a Hana High School graduate.
In 1976, Pu began an annual walk around the island. The trek along the old King's Trail would take a week to a week and a half. He would sleep in graveyards and abandoned cars, Vance Pu and Kanani Kahalehoe recalled.
The family would be concerned about him and on one occasion had to pick him up in Paia after his foot swelled up after stepping on a centipede, said Kanani Kahalehoe. This was in the days before cellphones so they'd keep track of him through reports from tour bus drivers, who'd see him along the road.
"He was walking with the spirits," said Kanani Kahalehoe. "He was walking with the kupuna. They were guiding him along the way."
"That was his way of rejuvenating himself, touching the aina and getting back to his kupuna . . . a way of re-energizing and touching bases with what mattered to him," said his son.
Vance Pu had an opportunity to walk with his dad but turned him down. The trek was a solitary, personal one; he turned away those who wanted to join him.
"It is one of the biggest regrets," said Vance Pu. "He invited me to go along. . . . I missed out on an opportunity."
About their father and grandfather, Vance Pu and Kanani and Mandee Kahalehoe said he was a simple, humble, spiritual man. He was the grandfather who would drive 15 minutes to pick up his granddaughter, who lived only a minute away from school, to take her to school and would take her to Hana Ranch Store for chili and rice while he drank coffee, and let her accompany him to work in the national park.
He was the dad who was against his daughter being a crew member on the voyaging canoe Makali'i, believing that only men should be crew members. When she returned from the voyage to Micronesia in 1997, he gave his blessing to her accomplishment in his special way.
"What his eyes see from land, my eyes will see the same from the ocean," he told her. "Both see the same thing."
He was a man who liberally told his family members that he loved them, his son said.
"I will miss his voice. His voice was calming," he said.
" 'I love you' from my dad is probably what I'm going to miss the most," the son said. "It was genuine love he had for everybody."
Pu's granddaughter and daughter will miss his smile.
"His smile, it's just a warm feeling that you get from him when he smiles," said his granddaughter.
"He would have the biggest smile ever . . . that is what I will miss most about my dad, his wonderful smile," said his daughter. "No matter how angry he was, there was always . . . a smile.
"And now as he lays on his bed, there is this big smile."
Pu is survived by his wife, Beverly, four daughters and a son. Funeral arrangements were pending.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.