Thos Rohr – Friend, Advocate, and Trailblazer
Waikoloa Beach Resort, the Island of Hawai`i, and the Aloha State lost a great friend, an advocate, and a trailblazing resort development visionary on Nov. 10, 2022, when Thomas Anthony “Thos” Rohr passed away in Honolulu at the age of 83. Friends and associates know Thos Rohr as “the Commish,” Rohr is widely regarded as someone who set new standards in the leisure hospitality industry in Hawai`i during his storied career.
Above: Chris Hemmeter (left) and Rohr at the opening of the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa.
The Commish Established a New Path
Thos Rohr landed in Hawai`i on New Year’s Eve 1960, in a tuxedo and a raincoat, having been invited to a party by his pal, Formula One racecar driver Peter Revson. After seeing his first Waikiki sunrise he decided he was home. He quickly made a name for himself in the hotel industry, rising through the management ranks and becoming acquainted with many of the state’s most dynamic businesspeople. In 1974 Rohr was named president and CEO of Kapalua Land Company. It was then mostly red dirt and pineapple fields, and he had the mission of creating a world-class luxury resort. He commissioned Arnold Palmer to design and build both the Kapalua Bay and Kapalua Village golf courses. The two men became lifelong friends. Deeply involved in the design of the resort, Rohr championed open spaces, the use of natural lighting, landscaping woven into the buildings, and other island nuances in a quest to impart a ‘sense of place.’ Rohr and his team eventually built and sold more than 500 luxury condominiums, many off the drawing boards to celebrities and CEOs at black tie events. They became the most expensive leasehold properties in the world at that time.
Tom Rohr, Former CEO of Waikoloa Land Company, Vision for the Future
When it was announced in the Wall Street Journal in 1988 that Rohr was the new president and CEO of Waikoloa Land Company, construction was almost complete on the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa (now the Hilton Waikoloa Village).
Rohr was determined to create a master plan that would maximize the potential of the land and resort and draw visitors from around the world to the Kohala Coast. He set about building The Kings’ Shops and eventually the Queens’ Marketplace, adding almost 200,000 square feet of shopping and dining space that became an anchor for the resort. His accomplishments included conceptualizing and building the Waikoloa Bowl at Queens’ Gardens, where major concert and monthly events have brought the community and resort guests together to enjoy music, food, and culture.
With Rohr’s commitment to and love of golf, he oversaw renovations to the Robert Trent Jones II course and built the Kings’ Course in partnership with the late designer and former PGA Tour player Tom Weiskopf. Rohr brought professional and celebrity golf tournaments to the resort, including a three-day golf extravaganza called the Kings Cup. Clint Eastwood, Bill Murray, and an array of celebrities and pro golfers attended the yearly event.
He also signed Peter Jacobsen, Cindy Rarick, and Parker McLachlin to represent the resort on their respective tours bringing wider recognition to the Waikoloa brand.
Rohr was well aware that Big Islanders did not wish to move to other islands or to the Mainland to find work. By organizing a massive letter-writing campaign, Rohr helped create the support that Mayor Steve Yamashiro needed to extend the Kona airport runway. With that, international flights could finally fly directly to Kona. Rohr helped make a reality of the families’ dream to make a living and raise their ohana on their beloved Island.
No matter what challenges he was facing or what fires he was putting out, Rohr lived in the world of possibilities. The glass was at least half full for him. He taught that you always have the power to say, “This is not how the story is going to end. Hawai`i has lost a great leader. Thos Rohr, the Commish, was indeed a comet that blazed through and contributed to our lives, leaving us forever changed in the best of all possible ways.
Tributes to Thos Rohr – “The Commish”
“The Commish will be sorely missed. He was one of the last of his generation of visionaries and entrepreneurs who made Waikoloa Beach Resort and the State of Hawai`i the success it is today.”
— Scott Head, vice president of resort operations for Waikoloa Land Company
“As brothers, we played golf in many places, shared quite a few drinks, thousands of laughs and great stories, but most of all we were always there for each other. If I ever tee it up again, I will see you right there beside me. You are my hero, T, and I miss you every day. I love you.”
—James E. Rohr, former chairman and CEO PNC Financial Services Group
“I had the privilege of being married to Thos for almost 30 years. I watched as people and situations were transformed as he scattered joy, humor, and his Midwestern common sense into every encounter. He was indeed a magic-maker of the highest order.”
—Robin Stephens Rohr
“He was a celebrated wit and raconteur, and he was a great friend to many. He was the king of the one-liners. And we were each other’s 911 call.”
—Paul Spengler, Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame, 1997
“Like his dear friend Arnold Palmer, the Commish was an authentic original. He was a true legend.”
—NBC Golf commentator Mark Rolfing
“Guys like Rohr were destined to be legends, as you don’t get to oversee large developments like Kapalua and Waikoloa unless you can deliver on BIG ideas. But behind ‘The Roar’ was a kindhearted soul.”
—Roy Yamaguchi, celebrity chef and founder of Roy’s Hawai`i
“Thos was a tough, fearless visionary who would always challenge me to see how committed I was to any initiative, project, or mission. I called it passing ‘the Rohr test.’
—John Monahan, president and CEO HVCB
“With admiration and love, I salute my friend of 30 years. Rohr was a genius for bringing people together from all walks of life, inspiring them to create a vision, and then motivating them to greater heights to make that vision a reality. He certainly did that for me. I am so much richer for having known the Commish.”
—Brandel Chamblee, lead studio analyst for the Golf Channel
“I am grateful for the special friendship I had with the Commish, a man in charge, a leader. Whenever I was in his company — often playing golf with him, his brother Jim, and Arnold Palmer — it was always an unforgettable occasion, with a lot of laughter and a lot of love.”
—Jim Nance, CBS Sports broadcaster
“Through Thos Rohr’s keen leadership skills and dynamic personality, Waikoloa became known around the world as one of the foremost resort destinations. His love of the Hawaiian culture was infused into everything he touched at Waikoloa, ensuring the rich history and traditions that make Hawai`i so unique would always be remembered. Waikoloa is blessed to have had him infuse his greatness throughout our ‘aina.”
—Cary Boeddeker, president of the Waikoloa Foundation
WORLD’S LONGEST LEI COMPETITION!
Now Through April 30
“During our early Lei Day Festival planning, I thought about something that could be fun and involve everyone,” said DiPrete, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa’s activities director. “Among the options, the world’s longest lei was something I pondered, so I did my research and found out the current Guinness World Record was held by India, where they completed a three-mile lei in 2012. After seeing that, I knew we needed to try and bring the title home here to Hawai`i.”
Now through the end of April, visitors and locals can contribute to the effort at lei-making classes offered on the hotel’s lobby level at 10 am daily. The last chance will be at the Waikoloa Lei Day Festival on April 30 at lei-making stations at the Kings Shops, Queens Marketplace and Waikoloa Beach Marriott.
A final measurement of the long lei on May 1 will determine if a new world record goal has been set.