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David De Luz Sr. remembered by friends, family

  • David De Luz Sr.

Prominent Big Island businessman David De Luz Sr. is being remembered by those who knew him as a role model and self-made entrepreneur who worked hard to achieve success.

De Luz died Oct. 13 at the age of 86.

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He owned Big Island Toyota, De Luz Chevrolet, Kukaiau Ranch, Hawaii Beef Producers and was the founder of Big Island Motors.

De Luz also was a member of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, Hawaii Farm Bureau, Young Men’s Institute, Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Honokaa.

His daughter, Jackie De Luz Watanabe, on Tuesday described her father as charismatic and a “very outgoing people-person.”

He was a great salesman, always smiling and positive, and was a “very voracious reader,” who would “read up on everything” from current events to well-known business books, fiction and nonfiction, she said.

Born and raised in Paauilo, De Luz Sr. graduated from Honokaa High School. De Luz Watanabe said her father wanted to be a veterinarian but finances prohibited that.

He had started work in Hilo when someone told him it would be a great idea to sell insurance, cars or become a banker.

De Luz chose cars.

“He thought the other two sounded boring,” De Luz Watanabe said. “And although he knew nothing about cars, he was a consummate salesperson.”

In the 1950s, she said, her father sold cars door-to-door. Because traveling around the Big Island was difficult, he would take Polaroid pictures “and sell people on the Polaroids,” she said.

De Luz was a self-made man, and the type of businessman and individual he was came through “a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication,” De Luz Watanabe said.

“They just don’t make them like that any more,” she said. “He was a person who worked hard and came from humble beginnings and limited education and resources. … Nowadays, it seems unattainable to most people that you can become as successful as he did with very little to start. He made it on luck. That’s what he said — the harder you work, the more luck you get.”

He became a well-known entrepreneur, but De Luz Watanabe said her father also had a passion for ranching and “was very interested in sustainability for the Big Island,” as well as working in nature conservancy and real estate development.

He’ll be known for “having a hand in a lot of things” that helped put the Big Island on the map, she said.

De Luz Watanabe said her father was successful, not only professionally but personally, too.

He was devoted to his family, she said.

“Our memories of him are all fun,” De Luz Watanabe said. “We’ll miss him because he was such a big presence.”

Marlene Hapai, president and interim director of the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce Cultural and Educational Center, said De Luz was a founding chamber member in 1982.

De Luz was a role model in business, not just for the Portuguese community but the Big Island as a whole, she said.

“We’ve lost a role model, but this is why we write stories, we write history. So we don’t forget.”

Gerald De Mello, retired administrator at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, knew De Luz for more than 30 years but was aware of him much earlier.

De Mello said De Luz served as his uncle’s best man in probably the late 1940s, “so the picture was always in my grandparents’ home.”

De Luz was an icon, he said, someone with “a lot of business acumen and a lot of good business sense” who built his dealerships from the ground up.

“There is a handful of people in Hilo who started business, but he stands out second to none,” De Mello said.

De Mello said that as a young man he looked up to De Luz’s business skills, resourcefulness, warmth and charm.

De Luz’s death is a loss of the pioneering spirit that “contributed to building the Hilo community and greater Hawaii,” he said.

In addition to Jackie De Luz Watanabe, David De Luz Sr. is survived by sons, David (Carol) De Luz Jr. and Wayne (Donna) De Luz of Hilo; daughter, Jan (William “Bill” Stormont) De Luz of Hilo; brother, Frank De Luz III of Hilo; sister, Gladys (Bruce) Mello of Kailua, Oahu; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Visitation is set for 2-4 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 28) at the Dodo Mortuary Chapel in Hilo, with a 4 p.m. wake service.

Friends may also call from 8:30-10 a.m. Monday (Oct. 29) at St. Joseph Catholic Church before 10 a.m. Mass. Casual attire is requested.

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In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in De Luz’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Association, Aloha Chapter, at http://bit.ly/deluzmemorial.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.