Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bill Kwon

It’s fitting that during the same week in which Bill Kwon’s life was celebrated the University of Hawaii football team is preparing to play an opponent with a starting safety named Weston Steelhammer.

Two of the many things Kwon loved were UH sports and athletes with great names.

The longtime Star-Bulletin sportswriter and editor got such a kick out of the latter that he’d pore through the high school rosters each year in search of unique names to write a column about.

There was Maunakea Mossman and Cash Petty. Bruddah Choy Foo, Sista Palakiko, Boy and Pal Eldredge.

Datsun Nihipali — who did not change his first name to Nissan in 1986. And who could forget Earvin and Magic Atuaia? Or Allen Allen and Samoa Samoa?

Honolulu Mika and Hawaii Mika.

His favorite was Laborday Hunkin.

Too bad Kwon, who died two weeks ago at age 82, had retired before Wave Ryder (who ended up at the Naval Academy, of course) and Peanut Butter Kaaialii made names for themselves in Hawaii high school sports. He would’ve had so much fun writing about them.

Kwon had his serious side, but he never forgot sports were supposed to be enjoyed — even if you were a Red Sox fan who had to endure (stuff) like Bucky #$%^ing Dent, bled green while your beloved ’Bows lost to BYU every year, and waited patiently for Michelle Wie to live up to the hype.

He was the first daily newspaper editor to give a rough-around-the-edges kid a chance to work in sports, first with high school football stats in 1981. My first writing assignment came a year later.

I was eager, and Kwon gave me all I could handle. A lot of high school baseball and local golf. Tractor pulls and youth soccer. But also a few tastes of bigger events, like the Pro Bowl and the Hawaiian Open. It was all great on-the-job training.

As an editor, Kwon was patient and understanding. He was a teacher who corrected privately and tactfully.
As a columnist, he was clever yet meticulous. Critical at times, but fair.

And it was obvious which sport was his favorite.

“He taught me about golf,” said retired Star-Bulletin sportswriter Randy Cadiente. “How to cover it. But especially how to play it.”

I can’t remember him losing his temper. Ever.

He was Mr. Consistency as a columnist.

“I remember calling him once with a question and I can’t even remember what it was about,” said Clyde Mizumoto, who edited Kwon’s column for 10 years.

“He was professional, always on time,” said Curtis Murayama, the Advertiser’s sports editor at the time and now the Star-Advertiser’s deputy sports editor.

I was fortunate to have Kwon as a mentor and also to be part of his unofficial book club. We shared good reads for many years, and good conversation until just a few weeks before he passed.

On Thursday at Waialae Country Club, speakers representing the many facets of his life recalled Bill’s wit and his vast knowledge and appreciation of many subjects. Mostly, though, we talked about what he meant to us as a friend.

David Ishii, the great golf champion, noted it was “the liveliest and funnest” celebration of life he’d been to.

I drove home smiling, remembering Bill did finally get to see the Red Sox win three World Series, the ’Bows thrash BYU a few times, and Michelle Wie capture an LPGA major.

-- Dave Reardon, Star Advertiser, 10/21/16

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