Winning OHA suit was ‘small part’ of rancher’s life
Harold “Freddy” Rice — a Hawaii island rancher, commercial fishermen and fifth-generation scion of a missionary family who won a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Hawaiians-only voting in Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections — has died of a stroke. He was 83. After being barred from voting in an OHA election in 1996, Rice prevailed before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision in 2000 based on arguments that the 15th Amendment prohibits federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Following the Supreme Court ruling, Rice told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “To me, this is all about protecting the Constitution and everyone’s right to vote.” The case was backed, in part, by the Campaign for a Color-Blind America, a nonprofit opposed to affirmative action.
Rice’s involvement in Rice v. Cayetano surprised his longtime friend, Hawaii island veterinarian Dr. Billy Bergin, a former University of Hawaii regent and founder of the Paniolo Preservation Society.
“It was out of character for him to butt his nose into Hawaiian affairs,” Bergin said. “He never got involved in the major controversies, so when the word came out that he was going to step forth and agree to challenge the issue by attempting to vote, the general community was wondering why in the hell he wanted to get involved. … His feeling was the quicker that this gets cleared up, the quicker OHA can move forward to the benefit of Hawaiians. Unfortunately, he never publicly made that statement, which would have been to his advantage.” Rice died Jan. 5. One of his daughters, Morag Rice Miranda, said she did not want her father’s involvement in Rice v. Cayetano to overshadow his many accomplishments as a fisherman and cattleman.
“My father did what he felt was right,” Miranda said. “It’s huge in Hawaii, but it’s only one small part of his life. The depth and value of his life was in the relationships and things he did as a fisherman and rancher, not Rice v. Cayetano. … His passions were soil and ranching and water systems and he left every ranch improved than when he found it. He put in boat ramps for local fishing communities so they could launch from South Kona. He helped people because it was right. He saw greatness in people.”
Former OHA chairman and state Sen. Clayton Hee had known Rice from their cattle roping days when they found themselves on opposite sides of Rice v. Cayetano. Hee, as OHA chairman, was in Washington, D.C., waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision when Rice woke him up with a 4:30 a.m. phone call.
“He didn’t call me to stick it in my ribs,” Hee said. “He called me friend-to-friend … not as an enemy. He said, ‘I just want to let you know I got word that I won.’ I said, ‘Freddy, you and I are good friends, many years. I just don’t know if I have it in me
to congratulate you.’ But Freddy was right. Technically he won, but quite frankly everybody won. The Constitution prevailed and OHA is better for it. The process by which everyone is afforded that privilege (to vote for OHA elections) has made the office stronger constitutionally. It never affected our friendship.”
But Rice could be a fierce competitor.
In the early 1990s, Hee organized a team roping competition at Kualoa Ranch that offered a truck as the top prize. One of Rice’s grandsons was leading the competition when it was Rice’s turn to rope, Hee remembered. “Freddy could have slacked up and let his grandson win the truck,” Hee said. “Nah, nah. That’s not Freddy.”
But his horse took a tumble and Rice ended up with a compound fracture of the leg. Rice was well in his 60s at the time, Hee said. “That was Freddy,” Hee said. “He was an athlete mentally and he was an athlete physically. If somebody told me he was roping last year, I wouldn’t blink an eye.”
Rice was born on Maui on Sept. 9, 1935. He was the great-grandson of William Hyde Rice, a missionary to Kauai who was appointed Kauai’s governor by Queen Lili‘uokalani.
Freddy Rice’s grandfather, Harold Waterhouse “Pop” Rice, was a member of the territorial Senate and a Maui businessman. Freddy Rice’s father, Harold Frederick “Oskie” Rice, owned the 18,000-acre Kaonoulu Ranch on the slopes of Haleakala. Freddy Rice attended Punahou School and went on to the New Mexico Military Institute and Cornell University before he joined the Army and became a lieutenant.
After leaving the Army, Rice and his first wife, Sally, moved to Maui, where Rice worked as an assistant to the ranch manager at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. He later became manager of Kahuku Ranch on Hawaii island.
In 1976, he and Sally divorced and in 1983, Rice’s ranch went broke, leading him to try commercial fishing. By 1995, Rice was back raising cattle in Waimea and he met his second wife, Gail. A year later Rice was barred from voting in an OHA election and he went on to sue in U.S. District Court. Along the way, he worked to form the Paniolo Preservation Society and the Hawaii Rodeo Cowboys Association, and also helped publish a rule book that Bergin said is still “the bible” over roping competitions that are unique in Hawaii.
Rice advocated for humane treatment of rodeo animals and was “a noted polo player,” Bergin said. Research that Rice and Sally did on grazing, fertilizers and different types of cattle grass was published by the University of Hawaii and helped ranchers increase the amount of beef they could raise per acre, Bergin said.
As a fisherman, Rice also won several Hawaii island billfish tournaments, Bergin said.
Rice is survived by wife Gail Rice; children F. McGrew Rice, Bonnie F. Rice, Morag Rice Miranda, Sheena W. Golish and Lilah A. Ellis; hanai daughter Sienna Rodgers; and former wife Sally H. Rice. Public graveside services are scheduled for 4 to 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Makawao Cemetery on Maui. A celebration of life is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Pukalani Stables in Waimea.
Harold “Freddy” Rice leaves the U.S. Supreme Court after listening to arguments in a case challenging a state law giving Hawaiians special race-based voting privileges. Rice died Jan. 5 at the age of 83.