A civil rights champion. A veracious veteran. Martin Thomas Rice, 58, lived with courage and compassion, close friends said yesterday.
He died Thursday at his home in Kapa‘a after a nine-month fight against lung cancer. Friends and relatives will celebrate his life from 10 a.m. to noon today at Kaua‘i Veterans Center in Lihu‘e.
“He was loved by all. He really was,” long-time friend Rick Janik said. “He will be a real loss for the cohesiveness and advancements of civil rights for the gay community.”
Born in Long Beach, Calif., on Oct. 10, 1948, Rice provided a social outlet for the Kaua‘i gay community when none existed.
Most friends recalled first meeting him at the weekly bonfire on the beach held every Friday for over 15 years now. Rice and his life partner of over 30 years, Fred Rainville, organized and hosted the event.
“The cancer was pretty awful. It ate away at his bones and his ribs would break, but he still came to the bonfire whenever he could,” said Charlie Baker, a local businessman who met Rice in 1981. “He lived every moment of life he could till the end.”
Rice defeated colon cancer in 2000 and remained cancer-free the next six years. His physician said he believes Rice developed lung cancer in 2006 after being exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, where he served two tours of duty with the United States Army.
After moving to Kaua‘i in 1978, Rice compiled and transmitted an e-mail newsletter every Tuesday to inform the gay community of what was going on that week.
“He was a central part of this community in connecting everybody — a communicator,” said Jason Yaris, who works at the Malama Pono Kaua‘i Aids Project.
As head of the Kaua‘i Democratic Party, Rice used his connections in the state Legislature to advocate civil rights, friends said.
On May 26, 2001, Rice was one of about 20 gay campers attacked at Polihale Beach. That June, Rice saw then Gov. Ben Cayetano sign a bill into law to protect individuals from crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.
“The governor wasn’t going to sign it. He said we didn’t have that in Hawai‘i. Then that weekend we were attacked. They burned our tents, beat us with sticks and tried to run us down with an automobile,” Baker said. “Martin was a very strong-minded, determined person who cared. A champion for many causes.”
Rice also worked to end housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and lobbied for same sex marriage rights.
“He believed gays shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens. He said as a veteran, he felt he should have the right to be as equal as anyone else,” Baker said.
Yaris said he met Rice over 14 years ago at a meeting to start a community organization. That group became Lambda Aloha, Kaua‘i’s only gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender nonprofit social organization.
“All of the rights homosexuals throughout the state of Hawai‘i enjoy today are due to Martin Rice,” Janik said. “This is the only gay community that I’ve known about that it’s really an ‘ohana and people care about each other and look after one another. The central core of that, Lambda Aloha, was founded by and continues to prosper through Martin Rice’s good works.”
After attending Cal State Long Beach, Rice managed the Palace Restaurant at Coco Palms Hotel and was the owner and founder of Tradewinds Spice Company.
“Above all, Martin really cared. He demonstrated how people in small situations can make a big difference,” Baker said.
Rice approached The Garden Island nearly two years ago with the idea to voluntarily do a gasoline price survey that he and friends have kept updated and posted at www.kauaiworld.com.
“Martin was an all-around great guy. He looked after everybody and made sure injustices were corrected,” Janik said.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com.