Gus Hannemann Took Friendships Seriously.

One of the unique aspects to Hawaii is our multi-racial society. It’s a fact that everyone living here is a member of a minority group. Among the many racial and ethnic groups living here are ethnic Samoans, some fairly recent arrivals from the American Samoa, the U.S. territory in the South Pacific, while others have been here for several generations.

Whether it’s a matter of genetics or of diet or a combination, many Samoans are big … and I mean really, really big! It is a fact that the University of Hawaii actively recruits football players from Samoa and one has only to scan NFL rosters to notice more than a few Samoan surnames.

Muliufi “Mufi” Hannemann, for example, is a graduate of Harvard and a former mayor of Honolulu. He’s a big guy — probably 6’6” or maybe a bit more — and, parenthetically, has paid a political price to some extent because of his size, being labeled a bully by some of his political opponents. 

I mention this because I note with sorrow a story in this morning’s Honolulu newspaper reporting the death of Mufi Hannemann’s older brother, Afimutasi, universally known as Gus. Most recently, he served as the American Samoa government’s official representative in Honolulu. I knew and liked Gus and to this day it’s impossible to think of him without being reminded of a time when he offered to arrange an interesting service for me.

Back in the 1970s, I was the official spokesman for the Mayor of Honolulu and the City administration. During that time, the city’s refuse workers staged an illegal wildcat strike and my boss, Mayor Frank Fasi, fired all 400 of the strikers and began exploring the possibility of privatizing Honolulu’s refuse collection.

That, in turn, triggered anonymous death threats directed at the mayor, the head of the Civil Service Department, and me, by virtue of the fact that I had been answering questions from the media about the whole unpleasant situation.

Literally minutes after news of the death threats became public, I received a call from Gus Hannemann, wanting to know if there was real cause for concern. I told him I didn’t think so, but I said the Chief of Police told me he had assigned the beat cops to keep an eye on my house.

“Well,” said Gus, “If you feel the need for some extra protection, just call me and I’ll have 500 pounds of Samoan muscle at your front door in 20 minutes.” Then he paused for a second and added, “… and if one guy isn’t enough, I’ll send two!” And we both had a good laugh.

I never took him up on his offer, but at the time, and in all the years since, it was a good feeling to know I was able to call Gus Hannemann a friend.