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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, February 9, 2001

Edwin Wong made
Hawaii a better place

WHENEVER I'd see Waterhouse Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Edwin S.N. Wong at some public event, he'd compliment my writing ability and say in his booming voice, "Ay, when I die, promise me you'll write my obituary!" I'd jokingly reply, "But, of course!"

Mug shotSadly -- for his family, friends and the state of Hawaii -- it is time to fulfill his final request.

Although Wong might not have been as famous as other self-made multimillionaires who ran conglomerates in this town, he was a true trailblazer and behind-the-scenes giant.

His work ethic developed early on. To earn money, young Edwin set pins by hand in bowling alleys, recycled empty beer bottles found on dusty roads, and sold plenty of seafood that he would catch while spearfishing off Waikiki.

"Wongy" ran with a rough crowd at Kalakaua Intermediate and took great amusement and pride in getting kicked out of Farrington for cutting class. Hey, he'd rather have been at the beach!

Fortunately for the community, he returned to the path of righteousness. Wong transferred to McKinley and got involved in ROTC, graduating in 1947. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii in 1951, then joined the Army as a paratrooper in the famed 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in the Korean War, completing over 40 jumps.

After getting his master's in business from Syracuse University in a record 14 months, Wong began his corporate climb at Castle & Cooke Terminals. Over the following decades, his accomplishments would include:

Bullet Studying and implementing the concept of containerization at Matson Navigation.

Bullet Negotiating the first multi-year contracts for dock hands.

Bullet Becoming the first Asian to break the glass ceiling at the Caucasian-dominated Big Five in 1970 by becoming senior vice president at Alexander & Baldwin.

Retiring from A&B in 1991, Wong anticipated more time to win bets on the golf course and travel with his wife, Rie. Alexander C. Waterhouse changed his mind.

The head of Waterhouse Inc. pleaded with Wong to eschew retirement and take over his company, which owns Francis Camera, golf courses, retail shops and other businesses in Hawaii and California. Under Wong's leadership, Waterhouse Inc. flourished into a stable organization with $30 million in annual sales and 350 workers.

AN achievement Wong was especially proud of, though, happened two years ago. As one of a three-man committee to select a new head coach for the University of Hawaii football team, he set his sights on and reeled in the prize catch named June Jones.

Nobody was happier than Wong, president and founding member of the Na Koa Football Club, when Jones gave up a pro career to lead UH to a turnaround 9-4 season in 1999 after an embarrassing 0-12 debacle the year before.

Wong was looking forward to the Warrior's 2001 games and imparting his enthusiasm for the sport with year-old grandson, Alika. It was not to be. He died on Sunday from a heart attack at the age of 71.

Visitation and services are set for 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., respectively, this Sunday, Feb. 11, at Central Union Church. Rest in peace and eternal joy, Ed Wong. You deserve it.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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