State Rep. Clift Tsuji died at the Queen’s Medical Center on Tuesday. He was 75.
Tsuji, who represented Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea, was remembered by colleagues as a quiet, gentle and hard-working legislator who always put his constituents first.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Rep. Tsuji," said House Speaker Joseph Souki, in a news release. "Clift who was a great public servant and a close personal friend. He loved his family, Hawaii and the communities he represented. He will be greatly missed."
Gov. David Ige said Tsuji had a "big heart" and the "courage to stand for his convictions."
"He was a passionate leader and a vigorous advocate for the Hilo community," Ige said, in an emailed statement. "His legacy of service will be remembered by his constituents and all Hawaii Island residents."
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Tsuji was "low-key in style but a firm fighter for the needs of the people of the Big Island."
"He will be especially remembered for his advocacy of agriculture and its essential role in the economy and culture of Hawaii," Schatz said.
In a statement, Mayor Kirk Caldwell called Tsuji a friend and a "decent, gentle man who cared so much about his community."
"He had much more to give and his passing is a tragic event for all of Hawaii," Caldwell said. "My thoughts are with his children Ashley and Ryan Kalei and his entire ‘ohana."
The family requested privacy, and has not said how Tsuji died.
Tsuji was born in 1941, and raised in the Big Island plantation town of Papaikou.
He was a 1959 graduate of Hilo High School and completed post-secondary degrees at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Washington, Pacific Coast Banking School.
After graduation from high school, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve, 442nd Infantry from 1959 to 1965.
He went on to become a program director at KIPA Radio, and was senior vice president of Central Pacific Bank from 1969 to 2003. He then served as vice president of Hilo Candy Company from 2003 to 2004.
Tsuji was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2004 and was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.