EDWIN TAM / 1923-2003

Travels inspired
ex-state welfare chief
to help others

Edwin Tam watched his father extend credit and provide informal social services to customers at their general store in Kapaa, Kauai, his daughter said.

"Working in that store was part of his inspiration," said Margaret Baer, noting that Tam learned early in his life how rewarding helping people could be.

Tam, former head of the state Welfare Department, died last Friday at Kaiser Medical Center. He was 80.

"He always wanted to do the right thing. He always wanted to do right by people," Baer said.

Born in 1923, Tam served in the Army from 1941 to 1946 and was influenced by the people he met and saw while traveling.

When he trained at boot camp in Louisiana, "he was shocked at how blacks in the South were treated. It was an eye-opening experience for him," Baer said, adding that Tam never wanted to see anyone discriminated against again.

While part of the occupation forces in Italy in 1941, Tam saw poor children living on the streets and begging for food and money.

All the people he saw suffering in the world "ultimately led to his decision to have a career helping people," Baer said.

Tam's lifetime career was in social work, she added. He graduated from the University of Hawaii with a master's degree in social work in 1949.

That same year, he married Mew Sunn Chock, who died in 1991.

Tam began working with the state Welfare Department in 1951 and became head of the department in 1969. During an interim period before he became head of the department, he took off a year to teach at the University of Hawaii School of Social Work from 1968 to 1969.

"He was very dedicated to his work no matter how difficult it might have been," said Tam's daughter Lisbeth. "It's what he enjoyed."

Tam retired from the Welfare Department in 1978, but retirement only encouraged him to do more.

Lisbeth Tam said her father was active throughout his entire life. Tam walked down Kailua Beach every day and loved when his grandchildren joined him for a walk on the sand.

"I think a lot of people would agree, he didn't look or act 80, he still had a lot of life in him, even to the end," she said.

Tam is also survived by sons Douglas, Robert, Michael and Carl; brother Gordon; sisters Marian Lynch and Priscilla Leong; and five grandchildren.

Tam was born and raised on Kauai.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the East Chapel at Nuuanu Memorial Park.


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