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Friends remember Robert H. ‘Buck’ Buchanan

By Staff | Jan 24, 2013


LAHAINA – Robert H. “Buck” Buchanan was an honest to God maverick.

The 85-year-old Lahaina resident passed away on Dec. 26, 2012.

The six-foot-four civic giant was truly a larger-than-life figure, and his influence on the island will be felt in many quarters for years to come.

Roselle (Lindsey) Bailey said, “Buck really loved Maui, and he loved Lahaina. That love was foremost in his heart and his mind and his doing.

“So everything he did for Maui and Lahaina was out of love,” Bailey recalled. “You have to respect and honor a man or a person who does that – no compensation; pure love for everyone in his community.

“He wanted to see the young people in the community rise up in a level of technology, science, of competition in the world; and, at the same time, keep our environment or land, which includes the ocean, intact.

“That’s a hard balance,” she added after a thoughtful pause.

Buchanan was born in 1927 in Africa.

He led an eventful life.

“His parents were Presbyterian missionaries, and they were on a mission in Ethiopia,” Nancy Sherman, his partner for the past 26 years, told the Lahaina News.

“When the Italians invaded Ethiopia in ’35, the mission sent for them to come back to the United States, because it was too dangerous to be there in wartime.” He was eight.

The family was mobile after that, moving from one Midwestern parsonage to the next in Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Kentucky.

He graduated from high school during World War II and joined the Navy as an enlisted man.

A member of the honor guard stationed aboard the USS Missouri at war’s end, Buchanan served on the battleship when the peace treaty with the Japanese was signed in 1945 in San Francisco.

With the GI Bill in hand, he attended Monmouth College and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the Illinois Presbyterian liberal arts school. He received his degree in law from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“He was a gas and oil attorney, dealing in all matters of gas and oil, mainly in oil,” Sherman said.

He worked for Mobil in Wyoming and Montana, but it was his affiliation with the consortium THUMS (Texaco, Humble, Union and Mobil) as one of the founders that earned him his maverick status.

The THUMS Islands are a set of four artificial islands in San Pedro Bay off the coast of Long Beach, California, built in 1965 to tap into the East Wilmington Oil Field. The landscaping and sound walls were designed to camouflage the operation and muffle the noise. They are the only decorated oil islands in the United States.

“It was kind of a cowboy thing, slant drilling under the city and establishing oil towers out in the harbor in Long Beach disguised as condominiums,” said Sherman.

“He worked for them for years.”

Buchanan retired in the late 1980s and moved to Maui.

“He was coming here, vacationing on long weekends from Los Angeles. He fell in love with Maui and wanted to retire here, and so he did,” Sherman noted matter-of-fact.

And it didn’t take long for the transplant to become immersed in island life, through his dedication and service to the community and church.

Through the years, Buchanan was an active member of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church and served on the Vestry and as treasurer.

When she first met Buchanan, Penny Wakida was a fellow parishioner at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church and a high school English teacher at Lahainaluna High School.

“I met Buck at a social event at Holy Innocents. He had only recently come to Maui and someone told me he was a retired attorney,” Wakida recalled.

“So I took one look at this big, handsome man with a delightful grin on his face, marched right up and promptly asked him if he would like to be the attorney-coach for a high school mock trial team.

“He immediately said ‘Sure,’ and it was a match made in heaven – Buck and those teenagers.”

“He was wonderful with the teens – joked with them, helped them with their parts, gave them rides to Wailuku for competitions. I can’t remember exactly how many years Buck helped – three for sure – and we were MIL champs all three years,” Wakida added.

Tonata Lolesio of the Lahainaluna Class of 1994 was a member of the mock trial team.

“It was the most wonderful experience and one of the highlights of being a student at Lahainaluna,” the now second grade Sacred Hearts Elementary School teacher remembered.

“He had so much experience, but aside from that he was such a great mentor – with everything. The way that he helped us and gave so much of his time and encouragement, we felt like we could win every single trial just because he was always there.

“Buck Buchanan was an impressive man,” Lolesio continued. “The impression he left on me is gonna last a lifetime.”

Buchanan earned the tag of an environmental activist in his later years.

“Once he got here,” Sherman described, “he became a real spokesperson for keeping Maui the way it was.”

He was the unofficial adviser to the 13-member Lahaina Citizen’s Advisory Committee (LCAC) to rewrite the West Maui Community Plan in the 1990s, working in concert with the late Dave Chenoweth, an appointed member of the LCAC.

Buchanan, Chenoweth and his wife, Elizabeth, were granted intervener status during the hearings on the development of North Beach, resulting in the designation of three parks in the four-lot subdivision, a wider setback from the ocean and the creation of Kaanapali 2020.

He became a regular at many Maui County Council and Maui Planning Commission meetings, testifying in that singular voice.

His approach to the betterment of Maui was multi-pronged.

Clyde Sakamoto, chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College, recalled his participation in Decisions Maui, later known as Focus Maui Nui.

“It was a community decision-making process We went to nine communities and held meetings and conversations about what should a good Maui citizen care about, and then put all that together to wind up with the values that continue to resonate,” Sakamoto said.

“He was always a very present kind of intellect. He was always a very concerned member of the community…”

According to Wakida, Buchanan was “wise, funny, humble, worldly and extremely enraged by injustice.”

He counseled Na Kupuna O Maui throughout the years.

Neighbor Jim Peck summed it all up in five words, “Buck will be sorely missed.”

Buchanan is survived by his partner, Nancy Sherman; four daughters; ten grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services at Holy Innocents are scheduled for Friday, Jan. 25. Visitation is at 10 a.m., and services commence at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations for Hospice Maui and Holy Innocents are being accepted.