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Remembering a Pioneer

Together with the Hawaii community, Make-A-Wish Hawaii mourns the passing of Greg Wong, or "Paco," a pioneer of the Make-A-Wish mission. From Hawaii and a Punahou alumni, Paco inspired so many people through the hope and strength that he exuded through his own journey.

"He lived the true meaning of aloha and spread it beyond our state when he founded the Make-A-Wish Alaska & Washington chapter. We stand by our sister chapter at this difficult time and remember the joy that he brought to so many children and families in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, and beyond," -Siana Austin Hunt, President and CEO, Make-A-Wish Hawaii.

As published by Make-A-Wish Alaska & Washington:

In June 1985, Greg Wong was your typical 32 year old. He was married to the love of his life, Lalaine, he had three small children and he was focused on building his career. He was sure, confident and successful. But, all of that was about to be challenged by a little girl he didn’t even know.

Thousands of miles away from home, Greg was at a sales convention listening to a speaker talk about a young girl who had terminal cancer. Virtually unheard of at that time, the speaker talked about how this young girl made a wish and a new nonprofit organization made it possible. That organization was Make-A-Wish® and they were looking for an army of volunteers to spread their mission nationwide. “Little did I know that an hour and 15 minutes later it would have such a big impact on my life,” said Greg. The story of that little girl stayed with Greg. It opened his heart and his mind in a way he never imagined. 

A few weeks later, he received a call from a fellow contact in the insurance industry asking if he would be his partner in starting a local Make-A-Wish chapter in Washington.  In true Greg fashion, he didn’t look to others to step up. He rolled up his sleeves and said “when can I start.” Along with two other locals, Bob Cleaveland and Penni Maples, Greg founded Make-A-Wish Washington in 1985.

“Through more than six challenge-filled years of fulfilling wishes, raising money, tapping potential contacts, Greg was always encouraging thru the storming, norming to performing chapter years,” said his fellow chapter founder, Bob. “Greg was never a ‘no.’ Always, ‘what do you need, BC?’”

Long before the days of emails, the internet and Twitter, Greg and his comrades relied solely on phone calls, face to face meetings and handshakes to raise the money needed to grant the wishes. 

“It was hectic. It was scary. And, we were begging from our knees to get that funding,” said Greg, when reflecting on the early days. But, somehow they did it and in that first year, they managed to raise $36,000 and grant six wishes. “You give birth to something, you have to support it,” he said about his continued involvement. 

Over the years, Greg wore many hats including founder, trustee, donor, public speaker and event participant. He lost his leg in 2014 due to complications with diabetes, yet months later he walked his daughter down the aisle and participated in our 5K Walk For Wishes®. Nothing was ever impossible for Greg.

“Make-A-Wish has impacted me in so many ways,” Greg said recently. “Especially to be thankful for what I have.” That message was never clearer to him than in 1989 when his son, Matt was diagnosed with leukemia. “Make-A-Wish gave me a lot of strength to understand what you need to do to get through those times.”

“A lot has changed since our organization’s humble beginning,” said Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington President and CEO Barry McConnell, “but Greg Wong was an inspirational constant. We will never have a better ambassador or friend.”   

Last week, Greg lost his own courageous battle against cancer. He will always be remembered as fun-loving, compassionate, determined, supportive and encouraging. He will be forever missed and his legacy is assured, having started an organization that continues to thrive, and has provided hope, strength and joy for more than 5,600 children and families in our community battling life-threatening medical conditions.


 

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Make-A-Wish® Hawaii
P.O. Box 1877
Honolulu, HI 96805
(808) 537-3118 x100