Attorney guided paddlers and troubled families
Michael Alan Poi Wo Tongg / 1944-2007
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Attorney Michael Alan Poi Wo Tongg was not only a champion outrigger canoe paddler and a crew member on historic voyages of the double-hulled sailing canoe Hokule'a, but also a foster parent to scores of children.
"He was a steersman in the canoe and a steersman in the lives of the children in the court," Oahu Circuit Judge Michael Town said.
Tongg died of lung cancer at his home on July 13. He was 63.
Tongg was an attorney who handled Family Court cases for more than 30 years, representing parents and children in trouble with the law.
Tongg and his wife, Janice, who had four children of their own, became foster parents to more than 50 children whose lives were severely chaotic and disruptive, friends say.
"He was not only a steady force in the lives of the kids, but he also was a healer. ... He practiced therapeutic justice," Town said.
"Mike was admired by Family Court judges and by his colleagues."
Tongg was also leader in the canoe paddling community.
He paddled with Waikiki Surf Club crews that won the Molokai Hoe in 1966, 1969 and 1973.
He served in the past as president of the Oahu Canoe Racing Association, Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and International Polynesian Canoe Federation.
"If anyone said they wanted to learn how to paddle, he would be there immediately to teach them," said Hannie Anderson, president of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.
Tongg traveled to several foreign countries to promote canoe paddling, including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Fiji, Palau, Western Samoa, Tonga and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
"He gave his time whole-heartedly. ... He coached many, many paddlers," Anderson said.
Anderson said during his tenure as president of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association for nearly 20 years, membership doubled.
"He left a big void in our association. ... It's a big loss to the canoe community."
Tongg also served as president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the organization that supported the operation of the Hokule'a, and was a crew member on many of its voyages.
Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson said Tongg was among a handful of men selected for the toughest legs of voyages, because he put others before himself and could be relied upon to save others even while risking his own life.
"That's at the highest level of leadership. We lost one of the great ones," Thompson said.
Thompson said Tongg saw the Hokule'a as a vessel to heal a wounded Hawaiian culture.
A memorial service will be held at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Aug. 12 with visitation at 10 a.m., followed by services at 11:30 a.m.
The scattering of ashes will be from the Hokule'a at Tongg's surf break near Diamond Head at 3:30 p.m., followed by a reception next to the Hilton Lagoon at the Anuenue canoe club at 5 p.m.
Aloha attire is requested. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to "Friends of Michael Tongg" at any First Hawaiian Bank branch or mailed to 5653 Pia St., Honolulu 96821.
Tongg is survived by wife Janice, daughters Malissa Kaawa and Stacy, sons Michael Jr. and Matthew, brothers Tenney and Ronnie, sisters Geraldine Kam and Trudie Kiessling, grandson Kainoa and numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.
For more information, visit www.tongg.com.