Hawaii sportscaster Robert Kekaula, 56, remembered for outsized generosity

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Jun. 20—Robert Kekaula was a balance of simplicity and complexity.

His everyday, everywhere attire was shorts and an aloha shirt—always neatly pressed, always vibrantly colored.

He was a wordsmith who pretended he did not do crosswords puzzles nor was bothered when someone incorrectly inserted "of " into a sentence.

His spacious house, built on Hawaiian homestead land, featured a bathroom with a urinal, a throne-high john and a shower that could comfortably fit a mini van. Admittedly particular about particulars, he designed a lighting system in which switches on opposite sides of a room were always in the same position.

He did not tolerate clutter—not in his car nor office, certainly not in his broadcast scripts.

His you-owe-me-money stare was an act. He picked up more checks than Brinks. "He was a giver, " said June Jones, a former University of Hawaii football coach. Kekaula belonged to several charitable organizations.

Kekaula, whose outsized personality and generosity made him one of Hawaii's most recognizable personalities, died on Saturday morning. He was 56.

Kekaula was KITV's managing editor and Spectrum Sports' play-by-play announcer for University of Hawaii football telecasts.

But the multitalented Kekaula was best known for his decades-long career as a sportscaster, where he delivered reports in a metered baritone. His contacts were so strong in the UH sports community, particularly the football program, that colleagues nicknamed him the "General Manager."

"I don't remember the last time I had a conversation with Robert—and I've had many, many over the years—that didn't include UH football, " Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said. "He was a big man, but he had even a bigger personality. He was larger than life in many ways. One of a kind. He's really going to be missed."

Former UH coach Norm Chow praised Kekaula's innovations. "He was always full of ideas, " Chow said. "He was an idea guy. He was terrific. This (loss ) is hard."

Nick Rolovich, who played and coached for the Warriors, described Kekaula as "the unsung hero of Hawaii football. He was always caring about the kids, especially the local kids. He had a lot of pride in his home (state ). ... It's hard to lose a friend. We had a lot of common interests. He was always a wonderful sounding board. There was so much he gave to this world and to Hawaii."

Kekaula, a Kamehameha Schools graduate, began his broadcasting career as an intern and roadie for KHVH. "He was like a security guard at a store and worked the graveyard shift, and then would come to work at KHVH radio and would help set up all our equipment for our radio broadcasts, " said Larry Beil, who was an announcer at the time. "There were so many times where I knew he was up for 24 hours straight and never complained. He carried this massive amount of equipment and always had the best attitude about it. He was always going forward and working harder. I was happy for him when he got opportunity after opportunity and was able to succeed on a really big level in the state of Hawaii."

During two stints as KITV's sports director, Kekaula frequently broke stories and crafted personality profiles. He also hired and trained sportscasters who eventually would land top jobs elsewhere—Kanoa Leahey, Rob DeMello, Rob Fukuzaki, Jahmai Webster and Neil Everett.

"Robert is so important to me in my life, " said DeMello, KHON's sports director. "He gave me my first job. I was 19. I didn't even apply for it. He found me, and allowed me to get into this business. ... Who knows if I would have kept my dream of being a sportscaster if it weren't for me being able to turn on the TV and see a local boy, a Hawaiian, on the desk doing sports every night ? The guy has meant so much to me. He's been there for every single significant event in my adult life. ... When my best friend passed away, he was the very first person there for me. He's been there for everything in my life, from the time I was 19 to now, and I'm going to be 39. I can't thank him enough professionally, personally. He's a giant in every sense of the word."

For 13 years, Kekaula and Bobby Curran teamed up on UH football broadcasts. "I remember we were in Tulsa, and the temperature dropped, " Curran recalled. "Robert cut out to go to the store to get something to wear. He brought us back both jackets. It was one of those things, without saying, he was incredibly considerate of people. A lot of people thought he was scary and mean. But if you were his friend, he was all in. That was a big part of Robert Kekaula. He had a huge heart."

Don Robbs, who first hired Kekaula at KHVH, recalled another act of kindness. "He had a custom Harley Davidson made for his dad, " Robbs said. "It was shipped to the Big Island. He was so proud and nervous about that."

A grander present came in 2008, when Kekaula, who returned to school after a 20-plus-year hiatus, earned his bachelor's degree.

"We're all mourning the loss of our dear brother, Robert, " said Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo, who first met Kekaula when they were UH students in the 1980s. "He had the biggest heart, a heart full of love. He tells you straight. He tells you how it is. I'm going to miss that guy. We're all in shock."

Kekaula also was an accomplished musician and recording artist.

"I've known Roberts since I was 12, " said Lehua Kalima Alvarez, a member of Na Leo Pilimehana. "We were both boarders at Kamehameha middle school. He was a year older. I remember him mostly as a musician. He and a couple boys actually competed in Brown Bags To Stardom the year before Na Leo became a group. I think they won the school competition. I remember they sang "Railway Station " by C &K. ... "He was always really supportive of our (Na Leo ) musical career and would tell me often how proud he was of us. ... He will be missed immensely."

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