For The Love Of A Big Brother
My world collapsed when I lost my Momma, heart sank when I had to say my final farewell to Dad, and I choked to clear the lump in my throat during sister Titi’s funeral. You would think that by now I’d be strong enough to handle a heavy heart, but when my brother Gus parted this world Friday, Jan. 2, the thought of not seeing my eldest sibling tease or embrace me with open arms ever again in this lifetime pained me. He, brother Nephi and I had just had a fun-filled mini-reunion over the Christmas holidays on the Mainland, and no one had an inkling that Gus was leaving this good earth for a better place shortly thereafter.
I guess it’s true what they say that grief is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. It is the price of love.
Gus was both compassionate and blunt, and his inner circle of friends constantly laughed with him, understood him well and knew that they were loved and appreciated. Those who did not see eye-to-eye with Gus more often than not admired his strength and conviction. Whether he agreed with your politics or not, he would still speak to you as a friend. I am honored and humbled when people acknowledge me for my speaking ability, but truth is, I never received formal training and never enrolled in a speech or debate class in my life. It was Gus who tutored me from a
very young age. As a toddler, my parents were the principals who insisted that I memorize all of my church talks, but it was drill sergeant Gus who taught me to use my heart and mind to connect with the audience, and to practice repeatedly until I mastered the messages behind the words. My eldest brother was an eloquent speaker, a master communicator in two languages who made his audiences laugh and cry — sometimes at the same time. He taught me to take great pride in my communication skills, which later came in handy throughout my presentations, keynote addresses and debates.
Gus made the most of his life and then some. His friends say they’ve never met a more gracious and giving leader who served his family, fellow man and God with passion and distinction. At age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served four years doing intelligence work in Germany and Japan. At 26, he made history as the youngest bishop in Hawaii for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1963, he was the youngest member of the original board of directors for Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.
But his love for Samoa was expressed by every breath that he took. He had made it his life’s mission to be the voice of Samoa, and assisted the highest officials of his beloved land and its people on a variety of causes and objectives. He passed away as director of the American Samoa Government’s Hawaii office. A fitting tribute of enduring to the end, serving his beloved culture and heritage.
He struck a love-love relationship with the media and was a regular with the press types who gathered daily for lunch at Columbia Inn and later Sunset Grill. In the heyday of the three-dot columnists — Sherman, Donnelly, Wood and Chapman — Gus often was ribbed by his friends for being cited in the print chatters almost as much as the local entertainers and politicians of that era. I took it as testament to the fact that Gus’ lifestyle was anything but dull and boring.
Gus had a passion for promoting and advocating for Samoan athletes in football, basketball and wrestling in particular. Star-Advertisersports writer Stephen Tsai recalls how helpful Gus’ pioneering sports banquets honoring Samoan high school athletes was for his understanding of the uniqueness of the Samoan people. Later, former UH football coach Dick Tomey found a strong recruiting ally in Gus, who helped lure outstanding players from Hawaii and American Samoa to don the Rainbow uniform.
And speaking of sports, when folks would query him on his own athletic prowess, given that his younger siblings excelled in basketball and football, the 6-foot-3 Gus was quick to point out that he was the first all-star in the family as a first baseman in the Guam leagues as a teen, and that his golf swing was a thing of beauty on the links — vintage “Gus-Man” rhetoric. Interestingly, local attorney Stan Mukai, unbeknownst to Gus, would confirm this aspect of his golf game to me repeatedly through the years.
He also was director of public relations at Makaha Beach Hotel and Resort, pioneered luau shows at Paradise Cove and Sea Life Park, was public relations head for the Hawaiians franchise in the World Football League, where he developed a lifelong friendship with professional football great Calvin Hill, and somehow even found time to manage my brother Nephi’s singing and movie career as the Polynesian Man.
In 2001, Gus was bestowed with the chiefly title Afimutasi in American Samoa, and later arranged for the investiture of a chiefly title also to be conferred upon Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock’s mother, Ata, says it best: “Gus was the rock for my parents (the late wrestler Peter Maivia and wife Lia) and when Gus took The Rock to Samoa, he was The Rock’s rock.”
Gus, you were more than a rock and a husband to your loving wife of 53 years, Lydia, Dad to TK and Teuila, and Papa to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Dear brother, for all others whose lives you touched, you were our treasured patriarch, a father figure and an inspiration.
Boy, are we going to miss you!
Visitation for Afimutasi Gus Hannemann is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday (Jan.17), at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hawaii Kai Ward, 219 Lunalilo Home Road. Services to follow. Burial will be held at 11:30 am Monday (Jan. 19), at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. firstname.lastname@example.org