‘Challenging thinker’ remembered at UH-Hilo

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Eric Im wasn’t afraid to challenge his students.

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Eric Im wasn’t afraid to challenge his students.

The longtime University of Hawaii at Hilo economics professor enjoyed intellectual banter, his former colleagues said, and unfailingly fought “tooth and nail” for causes — and people — he believed in.

“He was a man of principle,” recalled Roberta “Bobbie” Barra, a retired UH-Hilo accounting professor. “And God forbid if you violated those principles in any way because if you did he’d let you know.”

On Wednesday, dozens of UH-Hilo administrators and current and retired faculty gathered for an on-campus memorial service to pay tribute to their late colleague. Im died July 3 from pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

Im taught at UH-Hilo for about 34 years. He was one of the longest-serving faculty members — campus officials say he ranked in the top 5 percent. Originally from South Korea, Im moved to Hawaii in the 1970s. He earned a doctorate in economics from UH-Manoa before joining the faculty at UH-Hilo in 1982.

He was a founding member of UH-Hilo’s China-U.S. Relations M.A. program and served for a time as the economics department chairman. He also was published in more than 60 papers in several journals, including the American Economic Review.

Those who convened Wednesday remembered Im best as a tireless worker, who often could be spotted in his office on weekends and evenings finishing projects.

Others recalled him as a “challenging thinker” who “fought for his students” and “brought an enormous amount of perspective and depth to the room.”

“I could come to Eric with an interesting problem and say, ‘What can we do with this?’” David Hammes, a retired longtime economics faculty member, said during the service.

“And I could leave Eric alone and he would work it out and we got a couple papers out that way. … I knew I couldn’t do what Eric did but Eric also appreciated me and we worked really well together. In a small department and at a small university, when you find those people, it’s just a lot of fun.”

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“He loved the ocean, he loved Hilo, he loved his work,” added Im’s son Albert Im. “But most importantly he loved the relationships he shared with his colleagues and being able to share his ideas.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.