Born To Play Piano – And Help Others

For most of us growing up, our biggest question was: What will I be?

But for a rare blessed few, that answer makes itself apparent at such a young age, there is no turning from it.

The gift is bestowed in place of choice, its power too great to fight; one is obliged to just see where it will carry you.


Image 1 of 2

Tiu: ‘I do what I do because I cannot not do it.’

Names such as Tiger Woods, Quinn Sullivan and Yo-Yo Ma are among these.

But before them all was Ginny Tiu.

By the age of 3 she was playing songs on the piano that she had only heard, not been taught. By 5 she found herself at 1699 Broadway, playing for “Uncle Ed” as she called him, or Ed Sullivan for the rest of the world.

She was given audience to President John F. Kennedy, performed for Frank Sinatra and starred with Elvis Presley. The piano was her instrument, the world her audience. She even received the highest of all compliments that can be bestowed upon her by 1960s America: her own line of paper dolls.

But this story is not about what she was given, but what she gave back in return.

There is a sentiment from the New Testament, “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.” Or in French, Noblesse Oblige.

This is the motto of Maryknoll School, which will be honoring Tiu this Saturday at its 16th annual Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano Award and Scholarship Dinner for her lifetime of commitment to those who do not have a voice.

“I do what I do because I cannot not do it,” says Tiu, who resisted receiving the award at first. “I can’t stand if you see a person or an animal in need and you can do something about it, not trying. I don’t feel I should be getting an award for doing something that just feels right.”

She was swayed by former honorees Larry Rodriguez and Mi Kosasa, who told her that this award would give her a new audience for her message to help people and creatures alike that are true victims and need a hand.

This urge to help others transcends even her conscious memory. Her father used to tell Tiu about interviews they would do when they first emigrated from the Philippines when she was a mere 5 years old.

“They would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up,” says Tiu. “My dad would have to translate for me, and he told me that I said I wanted to be a missionary nurse. Where did that come from? They didn’t tell me to say that, I just wanted to be a nurse because I liked caring for people and trying to make them feel better.”

This dream never came true for the prodigy – her musical skills were too big to ignore, so she played the 88s at Carnegie Hall and other symphony houses the world over nine months out of the year.

Always on the go, she never attended regular school and despite that, or maybe because of it, she developed a very keen sense of what a human should be.

“It is important to not just teach our kids to be smarter, but to be better people,” says Tiu, who still performs at 53 by the Sea and Halekulani. “I have had a wonderful life, traveling, performing, meeting celebrities, but there is no greater joy than when you can help someone, whether it is an animal or a person, and you know that you have made their life better.”

It was discovering this joy that finally pinned Tiu down; a life spent traveling the world was finally locked down by the love of canine companions.

“At any given time I have between six and 10 dogs, some are mine and some are foster, so it makes it hard to travel,” says Tiu, who serves as vice chairwoman at the Humane Society. “I always say I am a prisoner of love, I don’t mind. The views (of the world) only touched my eyes, whereas these little guys touch my heartstrings. You see it, that is nice, take a picture, it doesn’t get too deep, but with these guys it is new every day, it never gets old.”

This love even forced her to move homes, as her oceanfront condo in Honolulu had a cap of only two dogs per unit, so she got herself a house in East Honolulu with a yard where they would have room to run and play.

Sometimes people ask her why she concerns herself with trying to help these few, when literally 9,000 dogs are euthanized in this country every day just because of space constraints.

“What makes me cry is when I see people or animals that are hurting, it really bothers me, and I just want to do everything I can,” says Tiu, the sister of former first lady Vicky Cayetano. “Why do you bother? You cannot even make a dent, but I tell them you can’t do it all, but it is not going to stop me from doing something.

“I would like to be remembered as someone who cares deeply for those who are truly vulnerable, do as much as I can to make things better for as many as I can.

“It’s not just an animal, it is another living creature.”

It is this belief that made her the perfect choice for the award, not for the accomplishments she made on the world stage, but for the ones she made for the weakest among us.

“I feel very honored to receive this award because it is so in line with what I believe, it is more what you do for everybody, not what you have amassed for yourself,” says Tiu.

The public is welcome to attend the dinner at the Sheraton Waikiki Ballroom. Tickets cost $200 with proceeds going to fund scholarships at Maryknoll School. There will be cocktails, dinner, a silent auction and a performance by Tiu.

For more details, go to or call 952-7310.