Dr. Linda L. Wong ’78

2014 Charles S. Judd Jr. ’38 Humanitarian Awardee
By Scott Osborn ’94

Dr. Linda L. Wong ’78 remembers the moment clearly. Beginning in kindergarten, her mother applied Wong to Punahou every year. Each time, the admissions staff would tell her, “Your daughter is very smart, but she doesn’t talk to anybody in the classroom.”

When confronted by her mother, Wong said: “I don’t know these people, so why would I talk to them?”

After three years of this, her mother decided that it would okay if her daughter attended another school. Upon hearing that Wong responded, “But I want to go Punahou!” Her mother, unwilling to go through the process and potential rejection yet again, refused to fill out the application. Not to be deterred, Wong sat down at the family’s IBM typewriter and filled out the application herself.

Remembering the comments about not speaking to other children, Wong made a point of doing so during the group testing and, sure enough, she was accepted into Punahou for fourth grade.

She fondly remembers taking calculus in the Academy with her favorite teacher, Francis “Miki” Bowers ’45. On the first day of school, written on the chalkboard were the words, “Fear Motivates.” The phrase stuck with her, and the class became one of her most cherished Punahou memories. “The only things I have kept from school are my yearbooks and my calculus textbook,” she says.

After completing medical school, Wong worked in San Francisco as a liver transplant specialist. Her father, also a doctor, was running a kidney transplant program. He wanted to start a liver transplant program in Hawai‘i and he had everything he needed except a liver transplant surgeon.

At first Wong politely refused, since failure at her young age might have been fatal to her career as a surgeon. Her father persisted and she eventually relented. When her friends expressed worry that it might not work out, she knew that she needed to prove them wrong. In 1993, Wong performed the first liver transplant in Hawai‘i. She continued to grow the program until the closure of Hawaii Medical Center, where the clinic was located. Without missing a beat, Wong worked day and night to successfully rebuild the program at The Queen’s Medical Center in 2012.

“Bringing someone back from the brink of death is a really special feeling,” says Wong, who considers herself lucky to be doing this work. She has certainly come a long way from that little girl who didn’t want to talk to other children.
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