The news that Mosi Tatupu passed away on February 23 is, to say the least, shockingly unhappy to we who knew him both as a classmate and as a friend. Understandably, much of the press coverage of his death focused upon his enviable football prowess. But we, having known him before he earned his fame, remember him for much more.
My initial memory of Mosi was from our first day in eighth grade. Meeting in homeroom in the basement of Bishop Hall, Miss Osborne was calling roll and struggled when she came to his name. She could not quite figure out how to pronounce “Mosiula.” Mosi was sitting in the corner of the room surrounded by friends who found her predicament quite amusing. Mosi, perhaps accustomed to such reactions at Punahou, kindly gave her the correct pronunciation while gently suggesting that “Mosi” was just fine with him. Little did I know that, eventually, “Mosi” would become a name that was well known not only to those of us in his homeroom, but to many far beyond its four walls.
Mosi and I later had scholarship work as Academy messengers. Pat Frazier Sherwood remembers that there “was always a bit of a reaction in class when Mosi delivered messages from the office.” She remembers one 10th grade English class when, in response to Miss Riley’s request, he demonstrated sauntering by checking out the kids in the class. Says Pat, it was a task “which he did well.”
Regina Yarchever Heit offered another memory: “I was in Math class with him our senior year and between the both of us…much to our amusement…we passed!! He graciously helped me and I did the same for him. Always a gentleman filled with aloha.”
Sandi Child remembered Mosi’s lighthearted class presence calling him “a real joker of the class at times.” She “can almost hear the teacher saying ‘Mosi, sit down!'” Sandi appreciated his presence noting that he was “always kind and considerate and protective of all of us girls with his gentle way.”
Jan Bertram similarly noted that Mosi “was a gentle soul in spite of his fierceness on the field. And he was so ‘there’, such a presence in our class and after. This is profoundly sad but I smile to think Mosi raised children who will be his legacy and a blessing to many.”
Class antics aside, it is ultimately Mosi’s superiority on the football field, basketball court, and baseball diamond for which we unanimously remember him. For Ted Pryor, Mosi was a reason to go to the stadium: “I remember going to a game specifically to watch Mosi play. He was so big, after running into the line, when he was tackled by the opposing team, he could stop, shake them off, and start running again. He must have been terrifying to play against. But I also knew him from class to be fun, always cheerful and a gentleman.”
With such skill, it was no surprise that Mosi was, as voiced by Gigi Dennis Ewing, “the supreme player in Hawaii sports. I remember him carrying four defenders down the field as they tried to stop him from scoring. He was gentle, funny and had such sweet dimples when he smiled, which was often. His senior year, he was gone most every weekend, on recruiting trips to the Mainland, where they treated him like a GOD. But you would never know it. I was so happy that he was appreciated by the sports world and had a great family. And his son Lofa is carrying on the family tradition of being an overacheiver! The world has lost a true gentleman!”
Football coach Dave Eldredge agreed with Gigi’s assessment. Summarizing the 1973 football team’s season in the Punahou Bulletin, he made special mention of Neal Ane, Keith Uperesa and, of course, Mosi:
Definitely, the most outstanding player in the state this year as he was for the two years prior, and without a doubt the best football player it has been our good fortune to coach, is Mosiula Tatupu. Approximately sixty major colleges and several smaller schools have inquired about and are interested in Mosi matriculating at their school, which is a testimony to his ability. He has rewritten the record books of the ILH. In twelve games this year, Mosi has rushed for 1942 yards, scored 213 points, passed for 85 yards, caught passes for 318 yards and returned punts and kickoffs for over 500 yards. In his three years at Punahou he has rushed for over 4600 yards and scored 384 points. Add to all this his outstanding ability as a blocker, and his asset as a natural leader and we have the characterization of a real All-American. We shall sorely miss Mosi.
We will all miss Mosi. Keith Uperesa, is one of his former Punahou teammates who misses him deeply. He states that these are some “of the most difficult days that we (‘the boys,’ ’74 – Wendell Ho, Jack Wright, Neal Ane, Earl Nakaya, Charlie Pacarro, and ’75-Duane Akina) have gone through. We all grew up together at Punahou. We all have lost a dear friend, a dear brother. Along with his many accomplishment as a great athlete, my fondest memories of Mosi were our times together after all of our games. We always got together with the guitars and ukuleles and singing and laughing ’til the sun came up. Mosi was always one to have a smile on his face, laughing and joking all the time. He was a very humble and dependable friend. He extended his brotherly friendship to me in my time of need. He was always there when you needed him. We along with everyone, counted on him to deliver as an athlete. We knew we could count on him as a friend and a ‘brother.'” Well said, Keith.
Additional memories from Keith and other classmates are given in this Honolulu Star-Bulletin article.
A memorial service is planned for a later date in Honolulu.
Want to share your thoughts and memories? An online guest book is available in which condolences may be written, you can join one of the R.I.P. Mosi Tatupu facebook groups, or can place your comments on this post.
Mahalo to Babs Miyano Young for providing the clippings from which many of these pictures were taken.