Community Voice Awards
winner Greg Tuai

“Give ‘til it hurts"

By David Takami
Examiner Contributor


Greg Tuai with daughter Alex. Photo courtesy Greg Tuai

When Beth Takekawa began working as development director at the Wing Luke Asian Museum seven years ago, she oriented herself, naturally enough, by asking questions. What she didn't expect, however, was that many of the answers led to the same name: Greg Tuai.

Do you have donors on a computer data base? Yes, Greg did that for us. How can we expand the phone system? Ask Greg; he installed it. I keep getting the same error message—what should I do? Greg'll fix it. What can I do to add desk space? Call Greg, he built it.

"I was beginning to wonder if there was anything Greg couldn't do," Beth recalled with a laugh. She soon learned that Greg, among his many other talents, could cook, too. His desserts, like his outrageous chocolate cream cheese cupcakes, were legendary at International District potlucks. And when Wing Luke executive director Ron Chew needed someone to write the text for last year's sports exhibit, he turned to Greg Tuai.

"Greg is one of those people everyone wishes they had," Ron said. "He does whatever is needed: computers, software programs, building cabinets, countertops and even an exhibit display case."

By profession, Greg runs his own computer services business, Discovery Consulting, out of a home office. Among his most notable accomplishments are groundbreaking advancements in the electronic monitoring of prisoners under home arrest. A graduate of Franklin High School and Yale University, Greg received his masters degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington.

But if Greg has a professional passion, it is his work in the Asian American community, helping the Wing Luke, Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) and a dozen other nonprofit agencies, most of them located in the International District, with their many and varied computer needs. He is typically hired on contract, but he routinely reduces his already low rate, and often doesn't charge for his work.

"Many of our community organizations would find it hard to function without his assistance," said ACRS executive director Diane Narasaki. Greg has been the computer go-to guy at ACRS since the late 1980s when the agency had one Packard-Bell computer. Now ACRS has a network of 150 computers and Greg has written many software programs to meet specialized data collection and reporting needs. "He's made a major difference in our ability to respond accurately."

"It's such an incredible relief," said Stella Chao, executive director of the International District Housing Alliance, another of Greg's clients. "He listens well and understands the needs of nonprofits. He's patient with people who know the least and great with people who think they know a lot."

Agency staff also cite Greg's unstinting generosity. Beyond the gifts of time and talent, he often donates equipment and supports nonprofits with financial donations. When Greg and I were on the board of the International Examiner in the early 1990s, he would give a substantial amount to the paper each year for staff bonuses. "Give ‘til it hurts," I remember him always saying. Ron Chew notes that a sizable donation from Greg and his brothers enabled the Wing Luke museum to complete the second edition of the oral history book, "Reflections of Seattle's Chinese Americans."

Ron and Greg, I should note, go back more than a few years. In 1983, Greg began working as the staff photographer at the International Examiner, when Ron was editor. Their hair was longer and more plentiful then, and community newspapering was a seat-of-the-pants operation, reliant on a dedicated core of volunteers and low-paid staff. Despite these conditions, the Examiner went digital very early on in the computer revolution. Greg bought a couple of used Morrow computers at a bankruptcy sale and donated these pre-IBM PC machines to the Examiner.

Greg's connection to community dates back to his college days in the late 1970s, coinciding with his growing awareness of his ethnic and cultural identity. Moving from Seattle and the diverse student body at Franklin High School to New Haven, Conn. and the WASPy environment of Yale was a real shock. "I went from a world that was two-thirds minority to a place where we were less than five percent," he recalled.

He joined the university's Asian American Students Association and members worked in the area's small Chinese community tutoring recent immigrants. Good friend and Yale classmate Grant Din remembered Greg and friends produced discos for the Asian American student group. Perhaps to avoid actually dancing, Greg built speakers, chaser lights and created special effects. "These parties became very popular and helped create a strong sense of community among Asian American students," Grant said.

Community work is now a family affair for Greg, his wife Benling Wong, and daughters Alexandra and Cassandra. In her work with the Seattle Public Library, Benling sets up community workshops on grant writing. Greg often brings Alex and Cassandra to community events. Greg's father, the late Liem Tuai, set an influential example for his sons through his devotion to public service as a judge and Seattle City Councilmember.

More than anything Greg appreciates and respects the people he serves. "Some of the greatest people in the world work in the I.D.," he said. "Everyone is so dedicated and nice. I'm sometimes jarred back into reality when dealing with others (outside the I.D.). Working here gives me hope for the world."

The respect, as person after person who knows Greg will tell you, runs both ways. "Greg's passion for community work and social change are inspirational," said Norma Tibang, former director of the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center. "We'd often comment, 'What would we do without Greg?'"

The question implies the answer that would make us all shudder.

©2004 International Examiner