William F. Quinn, 87; Governor Helped Lead Hawaii to Statehood

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

William F. Quinn, Hawaii’s last territorial governor and first elected governor, died Monday of complications from pneumonia on Oahu. He was 87.

Quinn, a Republican, was governor of the Territory of Hawaii from 1957 to 1959, having been appointed by President Eisenhower. He was elected to serve as the governor from 1959 to 1962 after Hawaii gained statehood.

Until current Gov. Linda Lingle won the office in 2002, no Republicans were elected governor of Hawaii, which became a Democratic stronghold in the decades after it joined the union.

Born July 13, 1919, in Rochester, N.Y., William Francis Quinn grew up in Missouri and graduated from St. Louis University. He got his first taste of Hawaii while serving as a Navy officer during World War II.


While in law school at Harvard University, he decided that he would move to the islands to begin his career in a private law practice.

At the age of 38, he was elected chairman of the 1957 territorial convention and served on the Hawaii Statehood Commission, where he was a proponent of becoming the 50th state.

Quinn “was a great example of someone who wanted to start a new life in exciting territory,” historian John Whitehead told the Honolulu Advertiser.

“He became very popular in the Honolulu political community because he sort of had that old Hawaiian way of campaigning,” Whitehead added, noting that Quinn had learned to play the ukulele and sing traditional island songs.


Quinn’s terms as governor included such crises as a prolonged sugar strike in 1958 that idled 13,000 workers; a 1962 West Coast shipping strike that threatened Hawaii’s ability to maintain a supply of groceries and other essentials; and a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people and injured about 300.

After losing a reelection bid to Democrat John A. Burns, Quinn returned to practicing law.

He was president of Dole Co. from 1965 to 1972, returned to private law practice again and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1976.

Among Quinn’s survivors are his wife of 64 years, the former Nancy Witbeck; seven children; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.