James Wah Yau Wong
James Wah Yau Wong
  • September 18, 1923 - November 22, 2017
  • Honolulu, Hawaii

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The skies threatened rain on the overcast morning of November 22, 2017 when James "Jimmy" Wah Yau Wong began his day like every other. He turned on the TV for overnight updates of the news and went outside to pick up the morning newspaper. Probably mentally sorting through his day ahead to manage his family's business, he had already made arrangements with his grandson to drive him around on Thanksgiving Day to deliver food to homebound seniors with the Lanakila Meals on Wheels. But what happened next was both unexpected and unplanned. He made his way back to his favorite chair and in his final moments, fell to his knees, gracefully bringing closure to a truly remarkable life. A fitting and exquisitely prayerful moment before he finally found his heavenly reward for a life well served, Jimmy peacefully passed away at his home at the age of 94.

His life was nothing short of miraculous and blessed. Born on September 18, 1923 to Fang Tai and May Chow Wong in Kahului, Maui, he was a country boy at heart with a curiosity that yearned for grand adventures and exciting challenges ahead. But around the age of thirteen, he was afflicted with a strange paralysis and general wasting away that couldn't be explained. Although his father insisted on the use of Chinese herbal medicine, his mother knew that they were having no effect and instead sought out the prayers of a Catholic healer nearby. She vowed that if her son was healed, she and her children would be baptized as Catholics because she truly believed that a cure for her son could only be through the intervention of the Catholic God. Within six weeks, without herbal or medicinal aid, Jimmy was healed, showing no traces of the crippling affliction that had nearly killed him. And as promised, May Wong and her children converted to Catholicism. This life changing miracle set Jimmy's feet firmly on a path of devotion and service to the Roman Catholic Church.

He went on to graduate from St. Anthony School in Kahului and continued to be a proud supporter of his school all the years of his life. Determined to leave the islands to further his education, he attended Golden Gate University (GGU) in San Francisco with the assistance of the G. I. Bill of 1944 for his years of service in the Pacific arena of World War II. He graduated cum laude from GGU in 1950 and was later recognized for his unwavering commitment to improving the academic environment in Hawaii through higher education. He was awarded Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Chaminade University of Honolulu in 1969 and also GGU in 1998. He co-founded the Hawaii Tax Institute with Chaminade in 1963.

On January 25, 1947, Jimmy married the love of his life, Ruth Kam Ung Wong of Honolulu. He later recalled thinking it was a match made in heaven. He was tall, athletic, very handsome, intelligent, and ambitious. She was beautiful, strong, with an intellect and a joy of life that matched his. Married for sixty years, they produced three sons, Garret, Warren and Darryl. Ruth passed away suddenly in 2006 and it left an empty space in Jimmy's heart that would never be filled. Warren emphasized that with all the demands of business, his family would always come first. "My mom and brothers were his greatest joy. He would say that he was only able to find success because my mother was always beside him. He did everything with us in mind and was such a devoted, hands-on father. My happiest times were spent with him hunting on the Big Island and I'll never forget his last trip with all three sons to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Now that empty heart is my own."

His decision to return to Hawaii was fortuitous. He was a rare addition to the business scene in Hawaii with a Certified Public Accounting degree which allowed him a foot in the door to a period of immense and dynamic growth in Hawaii. In the 1950s, tourism was booming and real estate developments were sprouting up everywhere to accommodate the rapid population growth. With his sound financial advice and astute judgment, he had a hand in producing such subdivisions as Enchanted Lakes and Keolu Hills in Windward Oahu, Pearl Harbor Heights in Pearl City, Waialae Kahala and Waialae Iki. He instinctively knew that growth wasn't limited to Hawaii and began to look abroad, finding opportunities in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, California, and Nevada. His son, Darryl, says, "As leader of the family business that now spans three generations, my father (was) an inspiring role model to his children and grandchildren as we venture into the complex role of living his legacy. His decades of active involvement in Hawaii's business, social, political and economic ventures (gave) him wisdom and insight that is valuable beyond measure." And his sons learned it the good old fashioned way - by scrubbing floors and other "hard labor" jobs that taught them invaluable lessons of learning the business from the ground up.
An athlete in his youth, he held the State high jump record in Track and Field that stood for many years and played basketball for his college team. He was a devoted fan of the University of Hawaii, attending almost every home game for men's and women's volleyball and football. He would enjoy recording college and professional football games and binge watch them on weekends. His longevity might also be attributed to his fitness regime - he played tennis with his friends almost every Sunday until two weeks before his death!

It was his instinct and his willingness to take a calculated risk that gave him the edge in business but it was his commitment to community service that drove him to succeed. The more prestige and wealth he earned, the more he could give back. The list of organizations he volunteered with and awards he received fills volumes but the common thread that ran