State Rep. Clift Tsuji died Tuesday at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. The Big Island lawmaker was 75.

The family has requested privacy. Services are pending, according to a House news release.

Tsuji, who represented Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea, was born Jan. 20, 1941, and grew up in the plantation town of Papaikou.

He graduated from Hilo High School in 1959 and went on to earn secondary degrees at the University of Hawaii Manoa and the University of Washington Pacific Coast Banking School.

Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, recommended deferring a bill to create buffer zones around schools to protect against pesticide drift.
Rep. Clift Tsuji at a legislative hearing this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Gov. David Ige and his wife Dawn sent their condolences to Tsuji’s children, Ryan and Ashley.

“Representative Clift Tsuji was a quiet man with a big heart who had the courage to stand for his convictions,” Ige said in a statement. “He was a passionate leader and a vigorous advocate for the Hilo community. His legacy of service will be remembered by his constituents and all Hawaii Island residents. He was a personal friend, and I am going to miss his presence at the State Capitol.”

First elected to the House in 2004, Tsuji chaired the Agriculture Committee and was named the Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Legislator of the Year in 2015.

Tsuji served in the U.S. Army Reserve, 442nd Infantry, Company B, Hilo, from 1959 to 1965.

He was active with the Hilo Medical Center Foundation, Hawaii Island Japanese Community Association, Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hiroshima Kenjin Kai, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and the Kumamoto Kenjin Kai.

Condolences started pouring in Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and state House Speaker Joe Souki both said Tsuji will be “greatly missed.”

“Rep. Tsuji was low-key in style but a firm fighter for the needs of the people of the Big Island,” Schatz said in a statement. “He will be especially remembered for his advocacy of agriculture and its essential role in the economy and culture of Hawaii. Clift was earnest, hard-working, and always had a kind word for people.”

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Rep. Tsuji,” Souki said. “Clift was a great public servant and a close personal friend. He loved his family, Hawaii and the communities he represented. … Our condolences and aloha go out to his friends and family from everyone at the legislature.”

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui sent his condolences to Tsuji’s family.

“Clift leaves behind a legacy as a strong voice for the people and a staunch advocate for Hawaii’s agriculture community,” he said. “I will always remember Clift’s booming voice coupled with his friendly and approachable nature. Those who were fortunate to have known him will also remember his kindness and the aloha he shared with the countless people he touched.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said his thoughts are with Tsuji’s ohana.

“Clift Tsuji was a friend,” he said. “He was 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.”

State Senate President Ron Kouchi said he is “deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Rep. Clift Tsuji.”

“He will be remembered for his hard work supporting Hawaii’s agriculture, his commitment to the residents of his district, and his warm and ready smile,” Kouchi said. “On behalf of the Hawaii State Senate, our deepest condolences to the Tsuji family.”

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