Jane Pang, a standout on the Hawaii tennis scene since starring for Kauai High School in the 1950s, died Dec. 15 at Kuakini Medical Center from complications due to COVID-19.
Pang, who turned 79 on Dec. 3 in the hospital, won eight USTA age-group national championships since 2009. She was still playing last month, just a few days before she got sick.
“We played on Sunday the 8th of November,” said Karen Hastings, a longtime friend. “The end of that week, Saturday, the 14th, she called me and said she tested positive.”
Pang was inducted into the USTA Hawaii Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.
“I think my greatest tennis achievement is playing competitive tennis at my age and still enjoying the challenge,” she said at the time. “My goal is to continue as long as I can. One is never too old to learn and to improve even a little bit.”
At 4-feet-10, Pang was often underestimated. She was always the shortest player at the Ala Moana Courts, and sometimes the only woman.
“A lot of times the men would be wondering what she was doing there,” said her husband, Franklin Pang. “And then they would find out when she beat them.”
Hastings said Pang was a complete player.
“There are all kinds of examples of what made her great. She had a large variety of shots, and she was so smart. She’d watch how someone stood, how they held their racket, and from that know what to do. She had a sixth sense that made her powerful, and she would just take over matches,” Hastings said.
“And she was a really, really nice person, very gracious,” Hastings added. “Jane was very quiet and short. Her racket spoke for her and it spoke loud.”
As Jane Hirota, she competed against adults from age 11, and was a star on the Kauai High School tennis team that upset Punahou to win the first girls territorial high school championship in 1958. Then she was a one-woman college team for the National College of Education in Evanston, Ill.
Jane and Franklin met in Chicago, where he worked for the IRS. She worked as a teacher in Chicago and later in Japan. After reuniting in Hawaii, they worked together in several businesses and raised two children, Lisa and Mark.
Business success and Jane’s talent allowed them to travel nationally and internationally for tennis.
“One of the beautiful things about the relationship was that they worked hard together and they played hard together. Basically, they were best friends,” Mark said. “When it came to tennis, he was her her groupie, her ballboy. That was his hobby, to see her play.”
Jane’s eight national titles in the senior ranks all came in doubles — with seven different teammates and at tournaments all over the country. Some were on grass surfaces, some on hard surfaces, some indoors. One was in mixed doubles.
“Her skills and competitive spirit made her a winner,” said Lurline Fujii, her partner for a national championship in 2013 in Cleveland. “She also won countless individual tournaments.”
Locally, Franklin remembers Pang and mixed doubles partner Pat Low winning a long string of titles at the Toys for Tots charity tournament.
Franklin’s voice was full of emotion Wednesday during a phone interview, when he said he passed the coronavirus to Jane.
“I’m sure she got it from me. It’s terrible, that COVID. … It destroyed her lungs and gave her pneumonia,” said Franklin, who said he has “50% of the energy” he did before COVID and is still recovering at home. “I don’t know how I got it. I tested positive a month ago. Two days later they told her she’d better take the test, too.”
They were in Kuakini Medical Center together for several days before Franklin was discharged, he said.
“We were in rooms just across from each other. One evening she walked over, and we talked for about five minutes and she went back,” Franklin said. “We never got to talk to each other again, and I never saw her again.”
He and other family members spoke to her by phone a few hours before she died.
“The hospital people were very nice. My nephew who is a doctor said they did everything they could and kept her out of pain,” Franklin said. “They called me (Dec. 15) and said they think she was going to pass away that night. They said she cannot talk but she could hear me, and the nurse put the phone near her ear. I told her how much I loved her, that we had 55 years of happiness, long life, prosperity, raised a family together. Life was complete.”
It has been a rough year for the Pang family. Their daughter Lisa died in August due to complications from diabetes.
In addition to her husband and son, Jane Pang is survived by sisters Coleen Hatashita and Joy Matsumura; brother Brian Hirota; daughter-in-law Samantha; grandsons Jedidiah, Tyson, Matthew and Bruce; and numerous nephews and nieces. Services are private, but friends will be able to visit her resting place at Diamond Head Memorial Park after Jan. 14.