Dr. Paul I. Nakayama passed away peacefully at his home in North Kohala on Dec. 18, 2021. He lived the last 11 of his 84 years in his “country” — Hawai‘i — and about that he couldn’t have been happier. He often said, “I’m so happy to be home” and “I’ve had a good life, the Gods have been good to me.”
Paul was born on Aug. 25, 1937, in Kaka’ako, O’ahu, and was adopted at age 4 by Wallace and Teruko Nakayama. He was proud to be one-quarter Hawaiian from his biological lineage.
He was accepted to Kamehameha Schools on Oahu but his mother, with help from his biological family, intervened to have him attend Iolani School from eighth grade forward. He frequently said Iolani changed his life and was exceedingly proud of his alma mater.
When Paul was 19 he left Hawai‘i to attend Michigan State University (MSU). While there, his off-the-charts test scores caught the attention of a nation looking to increase its brain trust in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Timing wise, Paul felt the Soviet’s launch and orbit of Sputnik 1 in 1957 helped launch his career because it spurred the US to make significant federal investments in research and development, education and national security in response to Soviet technological advancements.
Paul was invited to intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and he went on to become a member of the Technical Staff in the laboratory’s Theoretical Division. He received his PhD in Engineering Sciences from Purdue University in 1972 and completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at MSU in 1959 and 1960, in math and engineering sciences and mechanical engineering respectively.
Paul spent more than 40 years working as a physical scientist and technical manager in the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons complex. He maintained a long-term involvement in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) reactor safety methodology for degraded core accidents and served as an NRC Expert Witness at hearings on the Three Mile Island accident. At Los Alamos, he co-developed k-e turbulence models still in use today by industry and academia to calculate turbulent flows.
He founded, and served as President/Chief Operating Officer in high-level management positions at two companies — Jason Associates Corporation (Jason) and JAYCOR. Paul was the Principal Corporate Officer, responsible for overall management and work performance, for Jason’s work on the Kaho‘olawe Island Model Clearance Project in the early 1990s.
Paul was known and respected by his technical peers for his intelligence and business acumen and was loved and admired by his employees for his kindness and generosity. When he officially retired from Jason in 2009, he gave the company to his employees.
Upon moving to the Big Island in 2010, Paul rekindled his friendship with his childhood friend Dr. Robert “Bob” Masuda of Waimea. Bob and Paul served together on the Ho‛okāko‛o Corporation Board of Trustees overseeing public charter schools on O‘ahu, Molokaʻi and Waimea Middle School on Hawai‘i Island. When Bob resigned from the Ho‛okāko‛o Board to serve in Hawaii Governor Ige’s administration, Paul stayed on to continue their work including steering Waimea Middle School through some staffing issues. The result was new strong leadership at the school today and improved teacher morale.
Paul also served back-to-back terms on the Hawaii Preparatory Academy Board of Trustees and at the time of his death he was Board President for The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect and restore native tropical forests. He certainly enjoyed his technical career but derived as much if not more satisfaction from his post career volunteer work because it allowed him the opportunity to give back and help make Hawai‘i a better place, especially for the keiki.
Visitors to the Nakayama house nearly always end up outside, on the home’s screened lanai with its serene view of the Pacific Ocean. It was there, sitting in his “chair,” that Paul spent nearly 100 percent of his time…taking in his surroundings and talking story. He delighted visitors with stories from his youth when he surfed nearly everyday and sang with the other boys in the Hawai‘i Air National Guard; stories from his work life including pranks played on colleagues and days spent in the Nevada desert waiting on a test launch; and always, all kinds of stories about Hawai‘i.
It was important to Paul that visitors to Hawai‘i get to experience the real Hawai’i, not just what you see at a resort or in Waikiki. Paul was well read and enjoyed sharing knowledge he had acquired through books and life about Hawai‘i’s history, land, culture and people. He was especially cognizant of, and strived to emulate the main tenets of his culture — kindness, hospitality, respect for the 'āina and respect for one another.
He will be forever remembered for his wonderful sense of humor; his unselfishness; his hearty, happy laugh; and his quiet calmness, common sense and steady leadership.
He was preceded in death by his son, Isamu. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Nakayama, of Kamuela; his son, Makoto; and his daughter-in-law and grandson Andrea and Gilbert Nakayama.