‘A kind and gentle soul’

LIHUE — Peter Nakamura, longtime County of Kauai employee, slack key guitarist and long range planner, died of heart disease on Monday at his home in Wailua Homesteads.

He was 60.

“He really cared about doing the right thing for this island,” his sister-in-law Nadine Nakamura said on Tuesday. “He was such a strong advocate for good government and good policy making.”  

Nadine, the current county managing director, met Peter at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Oahu, where they studied for their master’s degrees in urban and regional planning and worked as graduate assistants.

She described Nakamura as “a renaissance man,” who loved music, learned how to play slack key guitar, spoke fluent Hawaiian, read voraciously and was “a devoted public servant.”

“He loved Kauai,” Nadine recalled.

John Isobe, who met Nakamura while he worked at the City and County of Honolulu in the late 1980s as a legislative aide to now Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, said Nakamura was “a kind and gentle soul.”  

“He was extremely considerate of other people, modest, and truly invested in future of the island and the betterment of the community,” said Isobe, who worked with Nakamura at the Princeville Corporation from 1992 to 1999.

Kim, when reached by phone Tuesday, said she will miss his boyish smile and amazing work ethic.

“There are those people who make an imprint on your life, even if you haven’t known them for very long, and Peter was one of those people,” Kim said.

During his time with the county, Nakamura served as the planning director from 1990 to 1992 and later became the county clerk in 1999.

As the county clerk, Council Chair Jay Furfaro said Nakamura was instrumental in relocating staff members while the Historic County Building was being renovated and was later tasked with moving everyone back in the building once the renovations were complete.

“He was a very talented individual who has done a lot of good things for the County of Kauai,” Furfaro said. “As a friend, he will be missed.”

But what Nakamura will be remembered for the most, Furfaro said, is his “special sense of humor” and dedication to mentor young county employees.

One of those employees was Yvette Sahut, a legislative assistant to the council, who was hired by Nakamura in 2007.  

“He gave me that chance to come home from Honolulu and I’m just so grateful for that,” Sahut said.

Gary Heu, former county managing director, said Nakamura was “a good man, a public servant beyond reproach, but mostly, he was a dear friend.”

“In my 11 years with the county, I never knew another individual who worked harder than Peter,” Heu wrote in an email on Tuesday. “Because of the respective positions we held, and the political realities that we faced, we often found ourselves on opposite sides of issues, but through all of that we attempted to keep our eyes on the big picture and maintained our friendship. I always thought that was kind of special.”

Nakamura later left his position as county clerk in 2011 to lead the county Planning Department’s long range planning division, where he led many planning projects, including community development plans.

It was a move that, some say, brought him back to one of his greatest passions.

“He was always studying and learning about good planning and he was able to do that in the end,” Nadine said. “I think he wanted to contribute to a better Kauai.”

Nakamura, according to a collective email sent by Planning Department staff, was a “lead by example” kind of person, who was usually the first one in the office and the last to leave.

Although his collective time with the Planning Department was split into four years over a decade, staff members called him “one of the foundations of this department.”

“In that time, he served as a mentor to all — his wisdom and style left and indelible mark that will be evident in the next generation of Kauai planners,” Planning Department staff members wrote. “We were fortunate to stand alongside him. As a colleague and as a friend, we will miss him. A hui hou, sensei.”

Nakamura wasn’t married and didn’t have children. He is preceded in death by his father Henry “Hank” Nakamura. He is survived by mother Doris Nakamura; brothers Kent (Karen) Nakamura of Bethesda, Md. and Galen (Nadine) Nakamura of Kapaa; and four nieces and nephews Casey and Reis Nakamura; Theresa and Christopher Nakamura.

His funeral is open to the public and will be Dec. 14 at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Kapaa at a time to be determined later.

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki.

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