Hawaii News

Emme Tomimbang, trailblazer in Hawai‘i radio and television dies at 73

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Hawaiʻi broadcast veteran Emmeline Tomimbang Burns, fondly known as “Emme,” died on Feb. 19, at the age of 73.

Emme Tomimbang Burns with her husband, James S. Burns

A University of Hawaiʻi alumna, Tomimbang, passed away at Queen’s Medical Center during emergency aortic surgery, according to the University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Tomimbang was a trailblazer in the Filipino community and for local women in radio and television in Hawaiʻi. She hosted a 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.

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Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said he was deeply saddened to learn of Tomimbang’s passing. He expressed his “deepest aloha and heartfelt sympathy to her family on behalf of Hawai‘i State Judiciary.

“Emme was a force of nature,” Recktenwald said. “From her work in the media to her support of the medical school, her warmth and passion energized all who came in contact with her. Emme’s light also shone brightly on the Judiciary.

“As the wife of former ICA Chief Judge James Burns, Emme was an integral part of the ICA ‘ohana, both while Jim Burns was chief judge, and in the years since. She was a mentor and caring friend to many people in our community, including myself and many other judges and attorneys. Her love for the islands and their people shone brightly in all of her work, and she made it her mission to support others to achieve their goals.”

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From her early days on the anchor desk for TV news to later producing television specials, Gov. Josh Green said Tomimbang told stories from her heart.

“She tackled some tough subjects as a broadcast journalist, but also shared stories of compelling island people in her ‘Emme’s Island Moments’ specials and that is how most people knew her,” Green said. “Privately, as the wife of former Intermediate Court of Appeals Chief Judge, the late James Burns, she became an important part of the state Judiciary ʻohana. The Office of the Governor joins Hawaiʻi in mourning the passing of a dear, caring storyteller and friend.”

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) joins people across Hawai‘i mourning the loss of Tomimbang.

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“Emme was a fixture of Hawai‘i TV and radio for decades and devoted her later years to expanding opportunities in medicine and journalism for students, particularly in the Filipino and Native Hawaiian communities,” Schatz said. “She will be dearly missed – but her impact across the state will live on. My condolences and aloha go to Emme’s ‘ohana.”

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