Alvin Tong Shim

Alvin Tong Shim, Founder of Shim & Chang


Born in Wailuku, Maui on November 10, 1923, Alvin Tong Shim was the second child and first son of Henry and Helen Shim. As a young boy, he earned money shining shoes, cleaning yards, selling newspapers, and selling fruits from the family trees. He attended St. Anthony’s School on Maui until the sixth grade.

In 1935, not quite 12 years old and dressed in his best outfit and lauhala hat, he traveled by boat to Honolulu to attend the then Kamehameha School for Boys, graduating in 1941. After graduation and deemed “not college material,” Alvin attended vocational school for 10 months learning auto mechanics. He also worked as a telephone repairman for the phone company where he experienced first-hand the broad abuse of workers’ rights. For Alvin, this was a pivotal experience and critical factor in his decision to go into labor law. After vocational school, he attended Berkeley and also worked as a youth counselor at Berkeley YMCA. Soon after, he joined the Army Air Corp and became a merchant marine.

Following his days as a merchant marine, Alvin returned to college in Honolulu, graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Business, To earn money and make use of his spare time, he read to blind students, washed dishes in the campus cafeteria, and served as the designated light man, turning off lights around campus. In the fall of that year, Alvin traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend The George Washington University, where he earned his Bachelor of Law Degree. From 1949 to 1953, he worked on Capitol Hill as an Administrative Assistant on the Review and Appeals Board of the Economic Stabilization Agency. While in D.C., he occasionally performed in small eateries singing and playing his ukulele.

In 1953, Alvin returned to Honolulu and became Director for the Kamehameha Alumni Association, earning himself free room and board. He began his practice of law in 1955 and founded Shim & Chang, Attorneys at Law in 1976. His legal career spanned nearly 40 years, until 1994.

Among injury attorneys in Hawaii, Alvin consistently supported the little guy. From 1959 to 1962, as Chief Attorney for the Hawaii State House of Representatives, he drafted bills resulting in key legislation. One of the most groundbreaking was to ensure a health care and retirement system for Hawaii’s government employees, which would later become a model for the nation.

Eventually, he would represent 27 unions, including firefighters, policemen, teachers, nurses, UHPA, Hawaiian Electric, and Hawaiian Telephone Workers, and 17 building trade unions. He created pension and health trust funds for these unions, and in 1973, he was the significant force in drafting and passing Hawaii’s No-Fault Insurance Law.

Throughout his life, Alvin believed in and supported the education and empowerment of Hawaiians, particularly the mission of Kamehameha Schools. In 1975, he co-founded Alu Like, Inc., and in 1978, he planted the seed to establish the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

In 1986, Alvin lobbied to have the “Aloha Spirit” concept written into state law so that all citizens would conduct themselves in accordance with this law. Alvin understood the social fabric of Hawaii and believed in the inherent good nature of every human being and actively desired to seek the betterment of the human condition. He not only made a difference in shaping and improving the quality of life for all people, but he also touched their spirits, their hearts, and their souls. He inspired everyone to think deeper, love stronger, and live every moment.

We miss the opportunities to call Alvin and talk story or talk shop, or just hang loose. And though we mourn the loss of such a loving, giving, profound person, to truly honor and celebrate his life, we must honor and celebrate our own lives and the lives of every human being in Hawaii, the nation, and the world with respect, compassion, and kindness, trust, patience, integrity, and love–in a single word, “aloha.”

e ho`olaule`a me ia mea he aloha, ka mea e kanaka ai kakou (Live Aloha and celebrate that which is a part of all of us.)

Excerpts from “A Celebration of Aloha,” July 19, 2006

Alvin was more than the founder of this law firm. He was a mentor of the law and a teacher of life. He taught us to experience life and not be a slave to the law. Law was not about winning or losing, but about creating relationships where both sides win.

Alvin’s last words to me were, “Thank you for being my friend.” No Alvin, thank you for being my friend and for sharing your special gifts with us. Your “Spirit of Aloha” will always be a part of this law firm.

Roy K. S. Chang
President, Shim & Chang, Attorneys at Law