The Garden Island
Notice #: 0001241343-01
Funeral Notices


Katherine Wai Kwan Li Sia, a homemaker, medical researcher, business entrepreneur and devoted wife and mother, died Oct. 19 at her Nuuanu residence at 15 Craigside after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her death came four days after her 92nd birthday.

A Hong Kong native, "Kathie" Sia came to Honolulu more than 63 years ago with her husband, Dr. Calvin C.J. Sia, who was beginning his pediatric residency at Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital. Dr. Sia, whose family was already well established in Hawaii, went on to practice medicine in Honolulu while championing innovative child health programs that have been widely adopted across the United States.

Kathie was second youngest of 12 children of Li Koon Chun, a shipping and banking magnate who built their family home, known as Kennedy Terrace, on the hill above Hong Kong’s Central District. During World War II, she and her family survived aerial bombings that destroyed their home; they had to move as many as 30 times during the Japanese occupation in response to violence and wartime food shortages.

The war delayed her graduation from high school, which Kathie had been on track to do at the age of 16. She also spent almost a year hospitalized with chronic migraines. By the time she went to Massachusetts after the war to attend Pine Manor Junior College and Simmons College, she was older than many of her classmates. She received a bachelor of science degree from Simmons in 1951.

During her second year at Pine Manor, she met her future husband, then an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, on a blind date on her 21st birthday. They went to the Dartmouth-Harvard football game. She remembers her dormmates giving her a birthday cake before the outing, all of them urging her to make a wish. "I said, ‘I wish I’d meet the right man,’" Kathie reminisced for a University of Hawaii oral history program. "I met him [that] evening."

Their budding romance eventually led her to enroll at Simmons to complete her undergraduate education, dropping plans to attend Cornell so she could stay in the Boston area. It also led to their wedding at Boston’s storied Old South Church on June 3, 1951 — Calvin Sia’s birthday and only a few days after her last college exam.

The couple moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she took a job as a seamstress while her husband attended the Western Reserve School of Medicine (now the Case Western Reserve University medical school). Less than a year on the job, Kathie learned that Dr. Norman C. Wetzel, a professor of pediatrics at the medical school, needed a research assistant for a study of nutrition and child development. With her biochemistry background and math skills, she got the job and ended up tracking the diets of 400 children from kindergarten through high school and helping devise what became the Wetzel Grid to plot changes in height, weight and physical fitness to help predict the physical development of children and adolescents. She fondly remembered that Wetzel, an acclaimed pioneer in child development, liked to call her what no one else ever did: "Katie."

When her husband graduated from medical school, they left for El Paso, Texas, where he did a general rotating internship as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps at William Beaumont Army Hospital. She was already a fulltime mom, as their first child, Richard, had been born in Cleveland before her husband’s graduation.

She and her family moved permanently to Honolulu in 1956 and she gave birth to two more sons, Jeffrey in 1956 and Michael in 1959. Kathie would later take great pride in her children, each of whom graduated from an Ivy League college, with Richard becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; Jeffrey taking the helm of the Hawaii Bar Association and Michael serving as chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

While her children were in school, Kathie engaged in volunteer work for various charities and met Billie Pininsky, wife of Irv Pininsky, a distributor of major-label record albums in Hawaii. The two women found a mutual interest in starting a business, so they created a wholesale gift company called One World. During the late 1960s, they imported products that were sold at several Honolulu retail stores, including Liberty House. Kathie and Billie also designed some of their own products, such as teak cutting boards, and called them "KaBil Originals." They agreed to dissolve the company in the early 1970s when they realized they both wanted to spend more time with their families and not expand the business.

Kathie traveled the United State extensively with her husband during the 1980s as he expanded his effort to promote new child health programs nationwide and served on national professional medical panels and federal advisory boards. When they traveled for pleasure, they boarded cruise ships, most often with her niece, Lisa Li Liem, and her husband, Gie Liem, and her brother, Li Fook Hing and his wife, June. But her true joy in life, she liked to say, was "getting to see my children and grandchildren."

She was a talented dress and pants maker and a prolific knitter, making sweaters and scarves for her children well into their college years – skills she honed in Hong Kong. Her knitted socks with elaborate patterns and designs were favorites of one of her brothers, who would wear them proudly in board rooms and the floor of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The attic apartment she shared with her husband in Cleveland had only hotplates for a stove, but Kathie was determined to learn how to cook and eventually could pull off a several course Chinese meal with the skills of a professional.

Besides her husband, Kathie is survived by three sons, Richard H.P. Sia (Kathlyn) of Gambrills, Md.; Jeffrey H.K. Sia (Dominique) of Honolulu; and Dr. Michael H.T. Sia (Lea) of Honolulu; six grandchildren, Andrew W.P. (Rachel) Sia and Nicholas W.Y. Sia of Gambrills, Md.; Alessi W.M. Sia of Santa Clara, Calif.; Cody W.M. (Kendra) Sia of Cleveland, Ohio; Marissa A. Sia of San Jose, Calif.; and Whitney K. Sia of Corvallis, Ore.; a brother, Li Fook Hing of Hong Kong; a sister, Viola Wai Sheung Li of Hong Kong; and many cousins, nieces and nephews in Hong Kong and the United States.

Memorial contributions may be made in lieu of flowers to the Calvin C.J. Sia, MD Endowment, Kapiolani Health Foundation, 55 Merchant Street, Suite 2600, Honolulu, HI 96813-4333.

Arrangements Provided By: Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary LLC