John Harry Rice Plews; naturalist, lawyer, history buff

LIHUE — A true renaissance man, John Harry Rice Plews was a passionate naturalist, historian and lawyer.

Friends and family of Plews remember him as a person dedicated to The National Tropical Botanical Gardens and Kauai.

He died in Honolulu on March 18.

Kawika Winter, director of Limahuli Gardens and Reserve said H.R. Plews had an impeccable memory of botany facts, Hawaiian lore and history in general. Both H.R. Plews and his family pushed for the founding of NTBG for years, Winter said. They advocated to have the United States Congress issue a congressional charter for the botanical gardens.

He was “an extremely passionate person who believed so strongly in the congressional charter,” Winter said, adding his praise for H.R. Plews’ dedication and the significant donations he gave as a member and trustee of the gardens who served as an unofficial historian there. “His contributions to the institution far exceeded his philanthropy.”

He was born in Lihue on Jan. 7, 1934. The Rice family of Kauai was a renowned English missionary family and included relations to William Hyde Rice. H.R. Plews’ parents were John Christopher Plews and Edith Rice Plews.

President and CEO of NTBG, Chipper Wichman, remembered a botanical discovery of a rare delissia plant population they made while hiking in Limahuli Valley together.

“He was laying down on the ground and there it was, he recognized the leaf shape of it.” Wichman said. “We couldn’t believe it, we were taking a break there and happened to notice it.”

The botanical gardens have since researched the plant species and propagated it, and the delissia plant species now is contained and lives in the Limahuli gardens. The plant is otherwise extinct, as it cannot be found in the wild.

Winters credits H.R. Plews financial contributions to having accounted for getting the botanical gardens on its feet as well as establishing a visitors’ center program to help them become financially self-sufficient.

Together the Rices achieved establishing NTBG as the only botanical garden in the world chartered by the U.S. Congress.

H.R. Plews was a philanthropist in the community and was a member of local organizations including the Kauai Historical Society, and the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.

As well as being a member and trustee of NTBG, he was also president of the children’s society.

According to family member Emmy Copriviza, H.R. Plews studied in England at Charterhouse, which was where his father went to school.

Afterwards, he moved to Maryland to attend Phillips Academy, and continued on to a Yale undergraduate program.

After completing his studies, he joined the Army for two years before going to Harvard Law School.

In 1962, he returned to Hawaii and became a lawyer with the firm Robertson, Castle & Anthony in Honolulu. Copriviza said he was well known for the popular Robinson vs. McBride Water Rights decision in 1973, in which she says the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled: water is a “public resource” as opposed to a “privately owned resource.”

His favorite part of the island was Kokee, where he spent much of his time in a rustic cabin in the mountains.

He also led a horticultural internship program there that lasted a year to help train individuals in tropical horticulture studies.

A memorial will be held for H.R. Plews at 4:30 p.m. June 30.

Donations to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens or the Kauai Museum are being accepted in lieu of flowers.


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