Two Legends: Frank Fasi and Bob Dye

The city lost two influential figures in February with the passing of former Mayor Frank Fasi and his city managing director—and also author and historian—Bob Dye.

We asked two writers who knew these men well to tell us some of their memories. Jerry Burris first covered Frank Fasi as a cub reporter for the University of Hawaii student newspaper, Ka Leo, in 1968. John Heckathorn is the former editor of HONOLULU Magazine.

Photo: Hawaii State Archives

The Bulldozer

Barack Obama may have elevated the idea of audacity to something close to heroic bravery—that Audacity of Hope thing. But Frank Fasi’s version was closer to the original idea, behavior that had friends and foes alike muttering, “How in the world does he think he can get away with that?”

“Fearless Frank” (he loved that moniker) was in love with confrontation and brassy statements that a meeker politician would never attempt. He was chin forward always, and if you didn’t like it, get out of the way.

The truth is, it was always a bit of an act, but a successful one for the most part. If you could get Fasi in private, in an introspective mood, he was far from the barking former Marine (and don’t you dare call him an ex-Marine) he enjoyed portraying in public.

Fasi was sentimental about his family (his kids, his dad, his political ohana) and warmly loyal to those who stuck with him. In fact, in his weaker moments, he might even become sentimental about reporters with whom he had publicly jousted. On many occasions he publicly humiliated reporters who were simply attempting to do their jobs. Then in private, there would be a back slap and the suggestion that this was all in the spirit of good fun and games.

In 1971, Fasi created a public bus system after a strike took place.

Photo: Hawaii State Archives

Over and over again, it was audacity that colored Fasi’s public career. City Council potentates resist the idea of giving up prized parking slots for a public park around City Hall? Fasi simply brought in a bulldozer on a weekend morning and began breaking ground.

The Honolulu bus system on strike and public transit riders stranded? A typical politician would have quietly worked to bring the two sides together. Fasi, instead, flew off to Texas, bought some buses and started his own system.

Photo: Honolulu Magazine Archives

Under fire for a “pay-to-play” campaign contribution system that seemed to reward contractors who were financially “Friends of Fasi?” Rather than deny it, Fasi pulled his pipe out of his mouth and pointed out that the people who contribute to his campaign are people who “have done, are doing, or hope to be doing” business with the city. To put icing on that cake, Fasi also noted that, everything else being equal, when it came to awarding contracts, you did business with your friends, not your enemies.

Fasi’s abiding political disappointment was that he could never convert his popularity as a mayor into the governorship or beyond. Without the least hint of humility, he would tell reporters in his earlier days that his planned political trajectory took him from mayor to governor, to the U.S. Senate and then, perhaps, a run for the presidency.

None of that was to happen, obviously. But Frank played well on the field he inherited. It will be a long time before anyone thinks of any name other than Fasi when someone mentions “Da Mayah.”

—Jerry Burris


World traveler and writer, Bob Dye.

Photo: Courtesy of Roger Jellinek

The Raconteur

Grand. It was a word the late Bob Dye used all the time. Because he was Irish, and because he was a grand gentleman of a type I hope never becomes extinct.

Dye was a man both practical (aide to Mayor Frank Fasi and Congressman Cec Heftel) and intellectual. He wrote countless political and historical articles and edited the three-volume set, Hawaii Chronicles: Island History from the pages of HONOLULU Magazine. That’s not to mention his own books, including a novel, Humble Honest Men, and Merchant Prince of the Sandalwood Mountains, the fascinating story of his wife, Tessa’s, great-great-grandfather, Chun Afong, Hawaii’s first Chinese millionaire.

Dye was a gentleman, but not a stiff and formal one. Well into his 70s, his children called him “Party Bob.” He threw wonderful dinner parties in his hillside Lanikai home. There, or in the office, or at the bar at Murphy’s, he was a great talker. 

As well as he could write, he could tell a story even better. My favorite? He once told me about storming into Advertiser editor George Chaplin’s office and demanding a retraction to a story suggesting he was dishonest, something Bob never was.  “I got it, too,” said Dye.  I wish you could hear the story from his own lips. It was grand.

—John Heckathorn