DIDI AH YO / 1949-2004

Travel exec was an
inspiration to many people

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Travel executive Didi Ah Yo became an island celebrity on the basis of a cheery television commercial message.

Strangers greeted her on the street, and professional entertainers borrowed and parodied her pitch for Creative Holidays, "This is Didi Ah Yo and away we go."

"Even little kids who watched television wanted her to be their auntie," said her sister, Lisa Leong. "She touched so many people."

Didi Ah Yo: She was most known for her "away we go" ad pitch for Creative Holidays

Ah Yo died Wednesday at her Honolulu home. She was 54.

She had battled cancer since being diagnosed with leukemia in 2000. She received a bone marrow transplant that year at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., and had subsequent surgeries, the most recent in September.

While the disease was in remission, Ah Yo went before the camera again to calmly reassure the public that it was safe to travel in the aftermath of terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001. She promoted a fund-raiser for the City of Hope's research into cancer and AIDS. Last year, she spoke as a survivor to reassure new cancer patients in a program sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

"She wanted to inspire other people who have the same problems," Leong said. "We found there were not many support groups, or they were hard to find."

Ah Yo volunteered at senior and community recreation centers, her famous sing-song voice a natural as a bingo game caller.

Ah Yo said in a 2001 Star-Bulletin interview that she enjoyed entertaining and chatting with people from her first days as a "puka shell tour guide. That's when I found out I was a ham."

She reprised her famous one-liner in a 1999 Honolulu Symphony parody "The Wizard of Oz Hawaiian Style." Her role was to help Dorothy find her way back to Kansas.

The former Didi Lum began in the travel business in the 1970s, selling island tour packages to tourists assembled in hotel ballrooms. With husband Paul Ah Yo as president and her as vice president, the family business grew in the 1980s into chartering travel around the world. She led groups on land tours and cruises to Alaska, the Mediterranean, Russia, Scandinavia and senior citizen jaunts to Missouri to hear Lawrence Welk in person.

"She lived her life to the fullest. She traveled so much, touched lives, made people happy," Leong said. The television persona "was her natural self. She was like that all the time: positive, cheerful."

"For us we're happy for her. She is with her wonderful husband now."

Paul Ah Yo was his wife's caregiver until his death in October of a heart attack.

Besides sister Leong, Ah Yo is survived by daughter Samantha Bart, parents Kenneth and Florence Lum, brother Preston Lum and grandson Sean Bart.

Arrangements for services are pending.


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