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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 16, 2003

Emily 'Honey' Ho, entertainer's mother, dies at 90

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

Emily "Honey" Ho, mother of entertainer Don Ho and boss of the rough-and-tumble nightspot in Kane'ohe where he got his start, died Tuesday night of natural causes at Castle Medical Center. She was 90.

Emily "Honey" Ho got her nickname as a baby.

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Honey Ho became a legend from Waikiki to Las Vegas as a wise, earthy woman who critiqued her son's performances and mothered his show business friends.

She was born Emily Silva in Kaka'ako on July 18, 1912, one of eight children of a clerk in the military warehouse on Ala Moana near the present location of Restaurant Row. Her father brought home damaged canned goods to supplement his salary and to help feed his family.

Nicknamed "Honey" as a baby, she kept a pet duck, picked kiawe beans for pin money, worked in the Dole Cannery and sang in the Kawaiaha'o Church choir. She remembered visits by her glamorous aunt, Emily Porter-Akau-Stupplebeen-Conradt, known as the "Songbird of Hilo."

She was underage when fell she in love with James Ah You Puao Ho and had to get permission from her mother to marry. She said the couple walked from her house to the church for the ceremony on Dec. 24, 1928, then to the house of his parents to live.

As their family grew, the Hos' scant income forced them to move frequently in search of housing they could afford. Don Ho remembers helping his mother feed pigs in Wai'alae.

Through the years, even before her son's fame spread, Honey Ho was a legend in herself as a congenial and understanding proprietor.

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The family moved to Kane'ohe when a job presented itself. A schoolteacher's husband had invested in a combination gas station, icehouse and café on Lilipuna Road and the teacher asked Honey Ho if she would run the restaurant on school days until classes let out.

With no experience, Honey took charge serving Hawaiian food and her special hamburgers. Business quickly improved.

In 1939, James Ho urged his wife to take over the lease and name the place "Honey's." The family lived in a room behind the kitchen. The boys slept in the garage.

As Kane'ohe grew, Honey's became a neighborhood landmark, attracting lines of customers and especially soldiers from the nearby Marine base during World War II.

James Ho kept an iron pipe wrapped in newspaper behind the bar to stop fights. When Honey banished somebody from the bar, the offender would usually return the next day begging to get back in and she would relent.

"Running a business like Honey's, you can always spot those who are unhappy," Honey Ho said in a 1971 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "They pull the label off the Primo bottle while they talk, they fidget, and sometimes they try to drink too much. I try to help, to get them in a happier mood."

Business was so good that in a few years the operation was moved to a larger building on Kamehameha Highway. Profits from the restaurant enabled Honey and James Ho to buy their first house, which became a second home for friends of her son Don while he attended Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawai'i.

In 1959, the failing health of his parents forced Don Ho to cut short his career as an Air Force officer and return to Honey's to take over the bar.

His entertainment career began when he started playing his electric organ and singing behind the bar. By 1961, Don Ho was in Waikiki, on his way to stardom.

Honey's closed in 1976 and was torn down to make room for an ice cream parlor.

James Ho died in 1977 at the age of 70. Honey Ho is survived by her brother, Manual Silva Jr.; children, Doris Castro, Donald, Ben and Dennis Ho, and Keala Ho-Dwyer; 23 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren; and nephews, nieces and friends whom she considered 'ohana. Services are pending.