PALAU TRALBLAZER TMETUCHL DEAD AT 73

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By Roya Camp

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News - July 3, 1999)---Roman Tmetuchl, the man credited with carving Palau’s modern political identity, died of heart disease in the republic Thursday night. He was 73.

A former co-worker and a Micronesia specialist who is writing a book about Tmetuchl yesterday called him a brilliant, religious dynamo who loved his family, loved sports and loved his country.

"After I heard the news about Roman, I’ve been walking around feeling very, very sad and very, very bad," said Yoichi K. Reigiil, who worked with Tmetuchl on Palau’s political status at a pivotal point in the mid-1970s.

For two years starting in 1976, Rengiil served as executive director of the Palau Political Status Commission, a group of Palau legislators and political leaders that Tmetuchl chaired. The commission worked on Palau’s political status with the United States government, work that culminated in the Compact of Free Association that was approved by voters in the republic in 1994.

"He is the foundation stone for Palau’s independence, free association status. There’s no doubt about that and everyone recognizes it," said Don Shuster, a professor of education and Micronesian studies at the University of Guam who is writing "Mesacheroid: the Life and Times of Roman Tmetuchl." The Palauan word means "person of vision."

Rengiil recalls the commission chairman as a humble, politically astute man who was very concerned with Palauans’ sense of self-worth and unconcerned with receiving attention for his efforts. As chairman of the commission, Tmetuchl led residents to reject the Micronesia Constitution, later adopted only by the Federated States of Micronesia and rejected by what became the Republic of the Marshall Islands. At a compact meeting with the federal government in Saipan in 1979, Rengiil said, Tmetuchl politely rejected the idea of federal food stamps for Palauans.

"I have all the respect in the world for this great man," Rengiil said. "He was a visionary. He devoted his entire life for his country."

But Tmetuchl was more than that, according to Shuster, who interviewed Tmetuchl about a dozen times and visited him in Palau last weekend.

Tmetuchl was also a noted athlete, a sprinter and jumper considered the best in Palau in the early 1950s. He later coached and managed teams, and knew the rules of various games by heart. Tmetuchl supported sports throughout his life, Shuster said, helping to raise money so Palau’s athletes could take part in competitions abroad and leading Palau’s delegation to the 1969 Micronesian Games, in which Palau dominated events. Tmetuchl also was active at last year’s games in Palau.

He was a businessman, owning real estate, a rock quarry, a bank, several restaurants, a hotel, a travel agency, a construction business and a hardware store. Shuster estimated Tmetuchl’s net worth at $30 million to $35 million.

He was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who read the Bible daily and sought guidance from God, Shuster said.

"He was a quiet man in the sense that he wasn’t flamboyant or showy," he said. "He was deeply religious in a quiet and private way. He would meditate and pray on very important situations."

He was a family man with 10 children and about 20 grandchildren. And he was one of Palau’s 16 chiefs, with the title of "Ngiraked" as head of Airai State.

"His whole life he was a dynamo, always charging off on a new project to do, always a new idea, always a challenge," Shuster said. "He was such a busy guy, he didn’t always have time for family, but when he did, it was very intense and very warm.

"People say of him, ‘He’s the brightest person Palau has produced," Shuster said.

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