In memoriam: Emme Tomimbang Burns

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Emme Tomimbang Burns with her husband, James S. Burns

Hawaiʻi broadcast veteran Emmeline Tomimbang Burns, fondly known as “Emme,” died on February 19, at the Queen’s Medical Center during emergency aortic surgery. A University of Hawaiʻi alumna, Tomimbang, 73, was a trailblazer in the Filipino community and a pioneer in radio and television in Hawaiʻi.

Breaking barriers for local women, she hosted her own radio show on KNDI in her teens, interviewed international celebrities at KITV, launched the Morning News on KHON Channel 2, and founded her own production company, Emme Tomimbang Multi-Media Enterprises (EMME, Inc.).

She was the widow of the late Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Judge James S. Burns, son of Hawaiʻi Governor John A. Burns, after whom the UH medical school is named.

Pivotal educational experience, upbringing

Reflecting on her educational journey, Tomimbang expressed gratitude for her time at UH, a pivotal experience she cherished. She attended Leeward Community College and graduated from UH Mānoa in 1973.

In 2014, she was honored with the UH Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Awards in recognition of her outstanding alumni accomplishments, inspirational leadership and service to the university and the community. At the event, she was also presented with her associate in arts degree from Leeward CC.

“The AA degree means so much to me because those two years at Leeward really defined my life and got me to the UH, and got me through the UH. So I am grateful to the community college system,” she said. “Having gone to Leeward and going to the UH, a great institution with everything that armed me for who I am and what I have done in my life. I think that was the real prize.”

Raised in the Kalihi-Palama area, Tomimbang is a proud graduate of Farrington High School. After her elementary school years in Kakaʻako, Tomimbang and her dad moved to Hotel and River St. where he had a second-hand appliance store.

During her middle school years at Central Intermediate, Tomimbang learned to swim, socialize and began the formation of her young teenage life at Palama. She was honored by Palama Settlement in 2015 as part of its annual Malama Palama Gala Fundraiser to support vital programs for the community.

“It was at Palama where I learned how to socialize and I even attended my first dance there,” Tomimbang said. “Palama provided us a place of trust and continuity, and offered very important programs that helped to guide us later in life.”

Dedication to philanthropy

Her recent years were dedicated to philanthropy, establishing endowments and scholarships. At the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), she honored the Kahanamoku legacy with scholarships for Native Hawaiian students and created the Burns-Tomimbang scholarship for JABSOM medical students committed to serving the Filipino community.

Tomimbang also gave back to her alma mater, Farrington High School, funding programs for aspiring Filipino doctors and nurses in rural areas, journalists, and nurses, leaving a lasting impact on those following in her footsteps.

Details regarding a memorial service for Tomimbang will be provided at a later date. The community is grateful for Tomimbang’s numerous contributions to improving health and offers sincere condolences to her extensive ʻohana.


Story originally posted on UH News