Donald Kiyoshi Funai “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” one last time on Christmas Eve at the amazing age of 92. His family believes he left that day because of his pure dislike of the commercialism of Christmas. Well played, Pop. Well played.
Don, who also lovingly went by Funai, Poppy, Poppa Fu, and Daddy, lived a life most only dream of living. Born and raised in Honolulu, HI, he spent his youth fishing, body surfing, and making girls swoon. He would tell you that wasn’t all true but then he’d smirk, and you knew it was. Don witnessed Pearl Harbor as it happened from the ridge above his house on the day after his 10th birthday. He could recall every moment of that infamous morning including watching Zero’s fly by over Diamond Head. He then became part of program during the war where he built scale models of Japanese planes to assist the Navy in identifying aircraft. His plane is still in the Smithsonian. Even though he was arrested twice by Vice for gambling at the YMCA, Don made sure he graduated with honors from St. Louis, a Catholic boys' school in his neighborhood and the University of Hawaii (UH). It was at UH where he earned a BS in Marine Zoology and most importantly a commission into the United States Air Force.
Once commissioned, Don began a 21-year career as a USAF pilot flying MATS missions in C-124s. He also flew many other planes including the T-33, T-39, T-29s and even a few Navy planes like the UF1 SA16. In his spare time, he was also an Air Force Air Traffic Controller. His best friend while stationed in Laredo was a fellow pilot who later became an infamous General in the 80’s. He drank in Officers’ Clubs with Khadafi. He flew search and rescue in the middle of the Pacific, and he located General Giap during a dangerous mission in Vietnam. Don volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. He said he knew it was his only chance to go to war and he didn’t want to miss it. He flew the EC-47 for 9 months out of Pleiku. It was there he met some of his closest and most cherished friends and made some of the best memories ever heard. It was also there that he was awarded 7 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After retiring from the Air Force, he began a career with the Federal Aviation Administration where he retired as Chief Pilot of Hangar 6. During his time with the FAA, he worked on several different projects including the start of GPS, the Gulf War, and beginning a flying program for FAA employees. He flew Citations, Lear jets, and his favorite - the Gulfstream IV. He traveled all over the world, including Russia, Africa, China, and South America. His daughter’s favorite question to ask him each day was “where did you go for lunch today” because it was more often than not answered with a state east of the Mississippi – depending on what they were hungry for that day.
Don wasn’t ready to retire, so after the FAA he went to work for McDonald’s Corporation in Chicago, Il. as their Chief Pilot. He called them the “hamburger people” so not to confuse them with any other company with the same name. It was there he decided he had “died and gone to heaven." Corporate Aviation was his dream come true. He retired from McDonald’s in 2000 and began flying for Ace Insurance out of Philadelphia and Bermuda. Finally, in 2003 after 50 years of professional flying he rested his wings and retired for the final time coming home to Fredericksburg, VA.
Don was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley, who passed away in 2003. They met while both were in the Air Force and married after only 8 dates. It was a romance only thought to exist in novels or movies. For the past 20 years, if you’ve driven by or through Oak Hill Cemetery you have seen him sitting by her graveside. He visited her every day. He is survived by their 2 children, Stephanie Funai Coleman (Scott) and Donald H. Funai (Danielle). He is also survived by 3 granddaughters, Alyssa, Cassidy, and Gillian Funai and one step-granddaughter, Lillian Coleman. He is also survived by his brothers, Melvin Funai (Lorraine) and Jimmy Funai, both of Honolulu Hi, as well as 10 nieces and nephews.
Don was the kindest, most generous, most interesting, and wisest man any of us have ever known. He was the epitome of classic cool - even though he’d say he wasn’t- and he set the bar high. Those of us who were blessed to know him, love him, and spend time with him now feel a void that can never be filled. There will never be another Donald Kiyoshi Funai.
Please join us in celebrating the Man, the Myth, and the Legend. Visitation will be held on Tuesday, January 2, 2024, from 6-8pm at Mullins and Thompson Funeral Service in Fredericksburg VA. A Mass will be held at St. Mary the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, VA on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, at 10:30 am followed directly by burial at Oak Hill Cemetery at noon.