For more than four decades, Larry Kadooka was the eye of Hawaii Island.
The longtime Tribune-Herald photographer, who retired three decades ago, died at 91 on Oct. 31 at Hilo Medical Center.
The newspaper career of the Kona-born Kadooka was prior to the digital age — which meant photography was in black-and-white and Kadooka developed his own images in a darkroom.
On Facebook, retired Hawaii Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear called Kadooka “a humble man with a terrific sense of humor” who “enjoyed fishing, gardening and farming besides spending time with his wife, Myra, and their family and friends.”
O’Rear said Kadooka “could easily transfer his skills from shooting a high school or (University of Hawaii at Hilo) sport during one part of his busy day, and then race up to Kilauea volcano that evening to take photos of an eruption that just started up, with him photographing 1,000-foot lava fountains lighting up the sky.”
Kadooka’s collection of 1960 tsunami photos is displayed at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo. One haunting image — that of a child’s doll abandoned in rubble — serves as a powerful symbol of loss.
Kadooka’s nose for news was as well-developed as his eye. Former Tribune-Herald reporter Gordon Pang, who is now with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, recalled that when first results were released during the 1988 general election, reporters were focused on the “very newsy Hapuna Initiative,” which concerned shoreline development in South Kohala.
“Everyone except Larry, who needed to figure out quick where he needed to go for shots,” Pang said. “So it’s Larry … who, in his quiet voice said ‘Hey, you guys, look at this!’ Perennial GOP candidate Bernard Akana, the guy who used to hang out with the other seniors at Kaikoo Mall, was beating incumbent Mayor Dante Carpenter, a guy people at the time thought was a legit gubernatorial contender.
“It was the greatest political upset in Hawaii history. And Larry Kadooka was the first journalist to notice!”
Kadooka was founder of the F.I.L.M. Club of Hilo and used it to share photos, network with fellow shutterbugs and nurture budding photographers. Professional photographer Rick Ogata called Kadooka “the reason I loved photography.”
“Uncle Larry would show me so many of his photographs,” Ogata said. “Unlike now, he had to develop his own prints back then, plus they were black-and-white prints too. Thinking about it now, he was truly an awesome photographer because it being shot with film you only had that one or two shots to get it right.”
Kadooka is survived by his wife, Myra; daughters, Susan (Owen) Muneno, Peggy Hilton and Wendy (Wayne) Goya of Hilo; sisters-in-law Janet Kadooka of Kona and Julie Kadooka of Cincinnati; brother-in-law James Apana of Wailuku, Maui; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson, nephews, nieces and cousins.
A drive-through visitation is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sunday at the Dodo Mortuary lanai area.
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.