Paul Leland Breese
Honolulu Zoo Director Emeritus Husband, Father, Friend to All Creatures October 16, 1922 - October 18, 2018 Paul reminisced, "One of my most cherished childhood memories is picturing me as an eight year old explaining to my mother and aunt how my pet alligator used its webbed feet together with its tail to swim in our bathtub. This recollection turned out to be highly prophetic since the two basic commitments of my long life have involved these same two activities: maintaining and interpreting exotic creatures." Orphaned by 1935, Paul traveled alone by train along with his pet turtle from Atlanta to southern California to live with relatives where he continued to be absorbed with nature. While attending college, he worked as a bus driver and in the reptile department at the San Diego Zoo, establishing long time friendships with then Director Belle Benchley, Bird Curator K. C. Lint, and Reptile Curator Charles Shaw. After Pearl Harbor, Paul enlisted in the navy, trained at Columbia University, and was commissioned a naval officer. He learned the skill of landing amphibious crafts on beaches and participated in five different Pacific campaigns including Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima. With the benefit of the GI bill, Paul graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1947. Paul's war experiences fostered his confidence and strengthened his passion to pursue his career of the displaying, conserving, and protecting animals. In 1947, Paul was appointed the first Director of the Honolulu Zoo. He developed the zoo's first master plan which defined the zoo's boundaries in Waikiki with fences and a single entrance, designed and constructed the many animal enclosures, landscaped and paved the parking area. Paul made numerous trips to the Mainland gathering and accompanying animals on their overseas trip to Honolulu. In 1964, a plaque was placed at the opening of new reptile building: Paul Breese Animalanai This building is named in honor of Paul L. Breese in appreciation of outstanding service to the community while director of the Honolulu Zoo from 1947 to 1964. With vision, creativeness and dedication he developed the zoo into one of the world's finest, giving to the people of Honolulu and to visitors an educational and recreational facility of unending pleasure. He leaves here a lasting imprint of his love of animals and of people young and old. Paul's most important contribution to our State was his work with the then Territory of Hawaii to begin the Nene Restoration Project in 1949. He chaired the committee to name the Nene our State bird in the 1950's. In the 1970's, he was the Wildlife Chief for the DLNR, started Pacific Zoological Consultants, worked with hotels on wildlife displays. In the 1990's, Paul founded the Brown Tree Snake Control Group bringing attention and action to our State's protection from that threat. In 2013, Paul was interviewed by the Zoos and Aquariums Video Archives which recorded his history, experiences, and wisdom for future generations. Paul and his wife published THE HONOLULU ZOO Waikiki's Wildlife Treasure 1915 - 2015. In 2016, he was named a Living Treasure of Hawaii. Paul leaves behind Jean DeMercer-Breese, his spouse of 32 years; children: Marlee Breese, Paul Breese III, Natalie Sainsevain, Dawn Breese; step-daughters: Eileen Lee, Elizabeth Spliethof, Caroline Wissmann, and Vicky DeMercer; 11 grandchildren including Lorain Adams, Moani Adams, Natty Adams, Raven Tershy, and 1 great-granddaughter, Dominique Adams-Santos. Services scheduled for Friday, November 2, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.
Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased