Saturday, December 15, 2007

Maui Tomorrow ’guiding light’ Ron Sturtz dies

Maui Tomorrow 'guiding light' Ron Sturtz dies
By BRIAN PERRY, Assistant City Editor

WAILUKU – Ron Sturtz represented Maui Tomorrow through much of its weekslong legal battle in 2nd Circuit Court earlier this year to block the Hawaii Superferry from operating without an environmental assessment.

While Maui Tomorrow won the case in the courtroom and later saw the ruling set aside by a law rushed through a special session of the Legislature, only Sturtz's family and friends knew that the environmental advocate was losing another battle – to an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Sturtz finally succumbed to the illness Tuesday. Born on Long Island, New York, in 1945, he was 62. He was president of Maui Tomorrow from 2002 to February of this year.

"He was an articulate and dedicated champion of the environment," said attorney Isaac Hall, who represents Maui Tomorrow, the Kahului Harbor Coalition and the Sierra Club in the Superferry litigation.

"He was a guiding light," said Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Irene Bowie. "It was such a pleasure to come into this organization and have Ron's wisdom and compassion to help us through a lot of challenging issues. He's sorely missed and will never be replaced."

Retired Maui Community College professor Dick Mayer said Sturtz was dedicated to improving Maui's environment, even though he had lived on Maui only since the late 1990s.

"He was very dedicated to the betterment of the Maui community," Mayer said. "He touched so many different people in a relatively short period of time with his intelligence and his leadership abilities and significantly with his compassion. He really wanted to help others."

A celebration of life will be held at 2:30 p.m. today at Makawao Union Church. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Maui Tomorrow Foundation through its Web site at or to the American Brain Tumor Association,

Lucienne de Naie, a Maui Tomorrow board member and former vice president of the organization, said Sturtz brought to environmental advocacy not only his expertise as a former trial attorney but also his integrity, compassion and sense of justice.

"His heart knew no limits," she said. "He really was a born healer that happened to go to law school."

De Naie said Sturtz's life prepared him for the work he would do later, during which he would use his skills as a mediator.

"He was prepared in the most elegant way without seeming to have to do anything about it," she said. "He lived his life that way with an awareness and a preparation for whatever happens."

Sturtz suffered severe injuries in an auto accident that almost cost him his life, de Naie said. He spent 18 months in a body brace and a wheelchair, and doctors doubted he'd ever walk again.

But through a long convalescence he regained his ability to walk, although he suffered periods of intense pain from his severely injured spine.

"He endured a lot of pain," de Naie said, but "he used it as a tool to deepen his compassion."

Sturtz's close friend and Maui Meadows neighbor Zachary Franks said Sturtz was "highly compassionate."

Many people talk about putting themselves in someone else's shoes, he said, but "Ron really did. . . . He was very skilled at that."

Franks said Sturtz would sit down with people, hear their points of view and "invariably be able to empathize. . . . Empathy is the soul of compassion."

As a skilled and longtime advocate, Sturtz was "enormously persuasive," but "he wouldn't hit you over the head with it."

"He was always able to make a case in an almost indirect manner," Franks said.

Sturtz also was much sought out by people seeking his counsel and wisdom, he said.

"We will never know how many people he guided during the course of his lifetime," Franks said.

De Naie said Sturtz was well prepared for death because he had lived so well in life.

"There was nothing left untied or undone," she said. "He didn't create a lot of stuff that needed to be fixed later."

Sturtz is survived by his wife, Merry Sturtz; two daughters, Rebeccah Sturtz and Leah Sturtz Harhay; a hanai son, Gary Lichtenstein; two brothers, Larry Sturtz and Joel Sturtz; and two granddaughters.

Brian Perry can be reached at