Bio

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Shep Gordon

 

Shep Gordon’s career as a talent manager may have started by chance, but his knack for creatively developing and promoting his client’s signature image has earned him a reputation distinctly his own. Throughout his career, Gordon has cultivated close relationships with rock stars, Hollywood actors and culinary legends founded on trust and compassion. However, navigating the often tragic world of fame took a toll. He found solace on Maui, where he has spent the past 40 years embracing the culture and helping to shape Hawai‘i’s unique fusion cuisine.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 19, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 23, at 4:00 pm.

 

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Transcript

 

I read about Colonel Parker, who managed Elvis Presley, coming to Hawaii and renting some beach houses in some story. A journalist had done a story. And I had a good friend here, Uncle Tom Moffatt, who I called and said, Do you know those houses? And he said, Oh, yeah, I rented it for him ‘cause I did the show.   So, it was at a time when I was smoking two or three packs of cigarettes a day, and I had a fairly large office, and I offered anyone who wanted in my office to quit smoking to come with me to Hawaii. And I rented on Kahala Beach the houses that the Colonel had rented. And … we all landed, we threw our cigarettes out the window. I’m sorry to say, we weren’t that environmentally conscious at the time. And … I ran into the wrong crowd in Honolulu. It was like being back in Hollywood; it was all the same, for me, from my view. I ended up going to the Imperial Hotel every night to a dive bar in the bottom room where … who knows what was going on. And I told Tom; I said, You know, I want to try another island. And he had, I think, Kalapana playing in Maui. And in those days, it was a hydrofoil. So, I said, Can I come? And he said, Sure, I’ll let you sell tee-shirts. So, him and his son Troy and I went over to sell tee-shirts. Hydrofoil landed in Maalaea Harbor, I put one foot on the dock, and I turned around to Uncle Tom and Joe Gannon, who has also ended up living on Maui and owns Hailiimaile General Store and Joe’s Bar & Grill, and I said, I’m living here the rest of my life, I just found my home.

 

Shep Gordon has called Maui home since landing in 1974. That didn’t keep him from becoming one of the best-known names in Hollywood as a successful talent manager, film agent, and producer. Shep Gordon, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Shep Gordon built his career on managing legendary music artists, while becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful agents. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation as being friendly and compassionate, qualities that he attributes to his father and the unusual circumstances he endured at home, growing up in the 1940s and 50s. At the time, he thought it seemed normal, until he wrote his memoir, They Call Me Supermensch, based on a documentary film that was made about his life. Writing this book opened the door to a deeper understanding of his parents.

 

I started in Queens, New York, which was a suburb of Manhattan. And it was an immigrant town, mostly Eastern European, lot of Jewish, lot of Italian, some Latino. And for the most part … very little English spoken. You’d hear Italian on the streets, you’d hear Yiddish, you’d hear Russian, languages that I didn’t quite understand. And then, we moved from there in the first wave of suburbia. It was a moment in time; it was a place called Levittown. It was the first real middleclass suburban community built outside of New York City. And it set the model for a lot of communities, where people who had been used to living in apartments were starting, normally first generation, sons and daughters of immigrants who were in the middleclass and starting to make some money, and could move their families to a place that had a backyard, good schools, and could start to take advantage of everything America had to give.

 

Did your family feel like they were really moving ahead?

 

Oh; it was an amazing time. Really an amazing time. I mean, it’s all the things that you hear about America and about the dream of America, and what America can do. This was the embodiment of that. These were proud people who were so happy that they were in America, taking advantage of what America could give you. And for most families, it was their first home, it was their first car. It was the first time that a kid took a bus to school instead of walked.

 

Your dad was a bookkeeper who didn’t speak much.

 

Right.

 

Your mom was a rigid woman who allowed a dog to attacked you to have the run of the house.

 

Uh-huh. I think, you know, in the Jewish community, remembering where they came from, remembering their heritage; these were all people who were affected by the Holocaust. So, things were very black and white. Even though my parents weren’t affected, their parents were. Then they had a depression. So, these were people who had to live through serious consequences, their actions had serious consequences. And I think she just viewed the world differently. And I know a lot of my friends who were Jewish, it wasn’t dissimilar, that their mothers were very strict, you lived in their vision of life, or you didn’t really exist, almost. I never thought that she hated me. It was her path. And I had a brother who ended up being a veterinarian, who loved animals, and wanted to be a vet, and had a dog that I couldn’t get along with. And … too bad.

 

And you lived mostly in your bedroom, because the dog was running around.

 

Yeah; yeah. Which in some ways ended up, I think, being a huge advantage to my life. At least, I tend to make it that way. I was scared to death to leave the room, ‘cause the dog would bite me. So, I spent a lot of time alone. I had to entertain myself, I had to be comfortable with myself, and I had to create my own world that I could live in. And that’s really, I think, how I ended up making my living, which is creating a world. That’s what I did for my artists.

 

Did you listen to music?

 

I didn’t really listen to music.

 

You didn’t have digital devices at that time.

 

I didn’t have a TV. No; it was a lot of reading. And a lot of being in my brain to fantasize. And there wasn’t that much time at home. I’d go to school, and then I’d play basketball ‘til it was dark. And then, I’d come home.

 

Did you eat with your family?

 

Very rarely. Just ‘cause I was scared of the dog getting loose.

 

What about your dad; what did he have to say?

 

My dad was the provider for the family. And he was always very compassionate with me; lot of love. And I would say to him once in a while, Why would you let Mom do this? Why would you pick a dog over me for freedom in the house? And he would say, Would you like me to leave, and leave you alone? I’m not gonna do that unless you want me to. So, we just move on, make it work. I don’t want to paint a picture of depression, ‘cause it wasn’t. It just was the way it was. I didn’t know any other life. This was the life I knew, and I didn’t really think about it until after I left home. And I always said, you know, my first day of college was the first day of my life. Because then, I could live my life in a free way.

 

I know you’ve described your dad as compassionate. And then, when it came to the way you did business later, you talked about a compassionate form of doing business.

 

Right.

 

Is that because of your dad?

 

I think so. When I was writing the book, I had never really thought about it. I had always thought that I’d lived in reaction against my mother. And when I wrote the book, I realized that, in fact, my whole life was really following in my father’s footsteps.

 

How was he compassionate?

 

He stayed; took care of us. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Helped anybody he could. I would hear stories from his friends when I’d meet them about who he was as a young man. Just was always kind to everybody, always had a good word. Just very compassionate in a very simple way; not in a big way. But the choices he made at every turn were always compassionate.

 

When Shep Gordon left home for college, he never looked back. He chose the life path that took him directly to the heart of the 1960s American Cultural Revolution.

 

So, you would go from a pretty regimented, strict lifestyle to pretty much hedonism.

 

Oh, completely; Animal House.

 

What was that transition like? You finished, you went to college.

 

Yeah. College is where I really started to develop a personality. I went to the University of Buffalo, and started to have social interaction with people, started to find a path and way that I could support myself. Started to realize what my skills were and weren’t, and started to find a way to get through life.

 

And I turns out, you had a lot of social skills, but they hadn’t really been cultivated in your childhood.

 

I think maybe part of it was that I didn’t have a social life as a child, so I tried so hard to get one and was so excited by it. And didn’t bring maybe the selfishness that develops if it’s just part of your life. So, I was so grateful, and worked very hard to try and be included. Which showed itself in service.

 

And you’re a product of the time, which meant sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

 

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. And some social consciousness. You know, it was the Vietnam days, so I participated in burning draft cards in ROTC buildings, and doing all those things. And then, Kennedy died, which was a very powerful moment. I remember I was a freshman at the University of Buffalo.

 

Did you feel your future was limitless? Did you have that sense of, this is a new game, and I can be anything I want to be?

 

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that period in American history was an amazing time period. Not only you could be what you wanted to be, but you could say what you wanted to say, you could act out your feelings. I lived during the generation where if we didn’t like something, we protested against it, we took action. I went to New School for Social Research, and dropped out after a few months. But I went for sociology. And at The New School, a recruiter came from the probation department in California, and I was a sociology major, which qualified me. I had my bachelor in sociology, which qualified me for the job. And I always wanted to go to California; I was a Hippie. And there was that song, Wear flowers in your hair in San Francisco. I said, That’s gonna be me.

 

Although, it seems like an odd choice for a Hippie to be a probation officer.

 

It fit into being on a white horse, saving the day. Social liberal. It was the same thread for me as burning your draft card. And in those days, Reagan was the governor of California, and had a reputation for being very oppressive to Hippies. Which I was one of. And I thought I would go out, you know, on my white horse, save the kids in the probation department.

 

But you had a tough time in that job, and it didn’t last.

 

It didn’t quite work. Yeah.

 

And then came an accidental choice of a place to stay on the road that changed your life.

 

Luckiest day of my life. I had about three or four hundred dollars left in my pocket, and I drove into Hollywood. And there was a vacancy sign at a motel, and I checked in. It was late at night. And in those days, I lived a drug-induced life at many times. So, I took a drug at that time, and sitting out on my balcony of this little room, thinking about how horrible my life is, and oh, my god, I just got beat up in the probation department. And I heard someone screaming down at the pool, what sounded to me like screaming. And I get down there, and I separate the two people. And the girl punches me in the mouth. And they were making love. And goes crazy, you know, like, Get outa here, who do you think you are? And I go back up and now, I know my life is ruined. I’ve been beat up twice the first day in LA. And when I went down to the pool in the morning, the girl turned out to be Janis Joplin.

 

Wow.

 

She was sitting around the pool.

 

With?

 

This amazing collection of like, Mount Rushmore rock stars. There was Jimi Hendrix, the Chambers Brothers. During the course of the next few days, Jim Morrison showed up, Bob Dylan’s road manager, Credence Clearwater Revival.

 

So, this was a hangout for the rock set.

 

This was a hangout. It ended up being where Janis actually died a couple of years later. And I started selling drugs, which was the only way I could support myself. Not my proudest moment, but it’s what I did. And one day, Jimi Hendrix said—who was customer. Thank you, Jimi.   And he said, What else do you do for a living? And I said, Well, you know, I don’t really know what I’m gonna do. And he said, Well, you know, if the police come and ask where you got the money to pay the rent, what are you gonna tell ‘em? And I said, You know, where I come from, the police don’t ask. And he said, Where I come from, if you wear a new watch, you’d better be able to tell the police where you got the watch. And he said, Are you Jewish? And I said, Yes. And he said, You should be a manager. I said, Okay, who do I manage? And Alice Cooper was living in the Chambers Brothers’ basement at the time. He wasn’t called Alice Cooper; he was called the Nazz. And they said, I think I know this guy. So, Alice tells the story of Jimi coming in and saying, I found a Jew to manage you.  And forty-three years later, I’m still managing him.

 

Shep Gordon’s success with Alice Cooper opened new doors for him. His genius for understanding how to market and promote his clients led them to superstardom. But that wasn’t always a good thing for either him, or the people he was managing.

 

You know, you were a manager, which by definition means you were, you know, watching out for things. But during this time, you were drugging and drinking, and had long nights with sex with strangers.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you manage?

 

Probably would have been much more effective if I hadn’t been. So, I did as well as I could do, given my lifestyle. But I didn’t really have a personal life. So, this was my life. And parts of it were attractive to artists. I was different than other managers. I sort of lived in their genre more than other managers did. I always thought that my job was to try and understand what the connection was between an artist and his audience. And if I could understand that connection, then to try and create a historical moment that really reinforced that connection. In Alice’s case, the common thread of his audience was, parents hated Alice. These were kids going through a period of rebellion, which every kid goes through. We wanted Alice to be that focal point of rebellion, to be that badge. The parents saying, You can’t go to the Alice concert, and the kid going, I’m going, he’s my favorite artist.

 

And everything the others thought was reprehensible and horrible was wonderful business.

 

Oh; my god. It was the greatest thing for us.

 

You once said you probably knew more celebrities than celebrities do.

 

Yeah. I was very, very lucky that way. I think part of me is a groupie, so I get attracted to the celebrities.

 

And yet, you came to a place where you saw that the fame that you created was toxic.

 

Yeah, yeah; very obvious. It became very obvious, very fast. It was a strange crossroad to be in. I had gotten to the point where I was very successful at what I did, it was giving me an amazing lifestyle, it was giving me a life that I had never even dreamed I could approach. You know, I was meeting presidents, I was driving in Rolls Royces. So, to give it up was something I really didn’t want to do. At the same time, I became aware that the better the job I did, or the bigger the celebrity was that I knew, the harder they fell. And it was very tough. The way that I dealt with it was to try and be honest. So, I would tell my clients when they’d come in, and all of them thought I was crazy, they’d all laugh, never had one who took it serious. But I would tell them; I would say, You know, if I do my job perfectly, I could kill you. Luckily for you, I’m probably not gonna be perfect, but I’m really good, so you’re gonna get maimed.

 

And that was all about fame?

 

All about fame. And they all got maimed.

 

So, there’s nobody that you represented who could handle the fame and the attention.

 

You know, I don’t want to paint this dark picture of suicidal, ‘cause I don’t mean that. You know. But you lose your life with fame. It’s so hard to stay on your path. There’s so many things pulling you, and celebrity becomes so important. It takes you off your journey. And it’s very hard to stay on your journey and stay positive, and stay happy. You start to dehumanize yourself for your career. And those are tough. There’s nobody who really survives. You learn how to adjust to it, but it takes you off your path. You know, for some, it’s drugs and liquor, which lead to, you know, horrible stuff. For some, it’s isolation. And the higher it gets, the harder it is. You know, I watch Alice, who I think has handled it as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, and he’s just found a way to get through it, but he’s nice to everyone.

 

But he’s had a serious drinking problem.

 

Oh, there’s nobody who hasn’t hit the wall, that I know.

 

Who’s famous, in your experience.

 

Yeah. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a crisis moment. For Alice, it was rehab, which didn’t work, and then it was losing everything. And usually, it is losing everything.

 

Shep Gordon’s life started to change when he met a famous French chef named Roger Verge. Shep’s new interest in food and cooking gave him the idea of creating Celebrity Television Chefs, and his new chef clients started becoming stars as national interest in cooking shows took off. In the meantime, Shep Gordon’s chef friends on Maui were not getting any of the benefits of the new culinary trends.

 

You’re credited with inventing the celebrity chef concept.

 

That’s my proudest moment, probably. I had started representing chefs, and signed most of the great chefs in the world, ‘cause no one else did it.

 

Did you think of, Bam!, Emeril Lagasse?

 

We worked a lot together. Yeah; yeah. The chefs weren’t friends. I lived in Maui, so I knew the guys, but they were acquaintances. The Hawaiian chefs were friends. Mark Gelman was one of my best friends, Peter Merriman was a great friend, Roy Yamaguchi. These are the guys that I cooked with, laughed with, you know, gloated about how lucky we were to be in Hawaii. And I knew, although no one ever busted me, here I was representing all these great chefs, but yet having dinner at my house for the local chefs, and I wasn’t representing any of them. And the question, How come not us? … although never said, permeated the room. And I realized I had to try and do something.

 

That’s just a Hawaii thing. It’s not spoken, but it’s there.

 

But it’s there; yeah. And they were all so gracious; nobody ever even made a sarcastic comment about it.

 

Yeah; there’s not a feeling of entitlement.

 

Yeah; at all.

 

But there’s a fairness question.

 

Exactly. And I felt it very strongly. So, I spent a little time in my Jacuzzi, and you know, my aloneness thinking, How do I do something that isn’t just a show? What can I do that can really help ‘em? Three of the chefs that I represented started movements. Mr. Verge had started nouveau cuisine, which was the first real culinary movement. And Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande had started Southwest cuisine. And these were culinary waves that went across the world. So, I called up the guys and I said, Listen, I want to try and do something with you. I have this idea that maybe we can start a movement. I don’t know what it is, but I think Mr. Verge will come in, I think Dean will come in, and they’ll tell us how they started a movement, and maybe we can figure out how to do something with all of you, and the weight of everybody. And they came and lectured, and out of it came Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which was pretty phenomenal.

 

Wow. So, do you spend a lot of time at restaurants on Maui today?

 

Yeah; oh, yeah. I love going to restaurants. I think one of the things to me is so exciting, is to see this new generation of chefs who were trained on Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.

 

You have a very nice home to this day.

 

I’m in the same house. Yeah; yeah. And I love it more every day. And my blood pressure on Maui is twenty-five, thirty points lower than it is on the mainland.

 

And you’ve done some hard living.

 

I’ve done some hard living.

 

And you’re healthy?

 

I am; yeah. Thank you, doctors.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

Musician manager, Hollywood agent, and culinary enthusiast, Shep Gordon has done it all, while living on Maui. Mahalo to Shep Gordon of Kihei, Maui for sharing your life stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

When you look back at a very successful life in many ways, do you have regrets?

 

Yeah; I would have liked to have my own children. I wish I had maybe spent more time on myself. I think when I look back at my business career, I think there are things that I would do differently. I never had contracts with any of my artists, which meant my revenue stopped when I stopped working with them. Which I also was a white knight on a horse. You know, I don’t need it. I’m doing it for other reasons. And in the days I was doing it, I never had a consciousness that in my older years my resources could really help people that needed it, instead of it being squandered by maybe some artists at the time. So, I think that, I would have done differently. I would have kept the revenue flow that I could have used for good stuff. But for the most part, no, I think my life evolved the way it was supposed to evolve, in whatever way that is.

 

[END]

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep

 

Kimi Werner – a spearfisher, chef, artist and motivational speaker – shares how her underwater experiences have informed her life on land in profound ways. She recounts her opportunity to swim alongside a great white shark and how the encounter shifted her perspective on her place in the ecosystem.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 26, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Audio

 

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Transcript

 

From the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. Um … and that’s just such a rare thing. I think a lot of times, we’re just battling these voices in our head and whatnot, and the minute my face is in the water, everything goes quiet, and I’m only focused on what’s in front of me. Then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the most relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air.

 

The lessons from her underwater experiences are at the heart of much of what Kimi Werner does, be it on land as an artist, a culinary expert or a public speaker, or in the ocean, hunting fish or even swimming with sharks. Kimi Werner next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberley Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, started her relationship with the ocean when she was five years old, living in Haiku, Maui. She tagged along with her father when he went spearfishing, at first staying on the surface of the water as she tried to keep up with him. She didn’t know it at the time, but he was teaching her everything she would need to know when she grew up and decided that she, too, wanted to hunt fish underwater.

 

Would you take us through what it’s like to take a breath, one breath, and hold it while you hunt fish, and come back with dinner?

 

Sure. So, I mean, basically, from the moment … from the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. And even uh, starting just to swim, you’re already hunting, because you’re observing that world so presently. And—and I’m watching the little bait fish, and they’re telling me things, you know. And I’m looking at the bottom and the structure, and the reef, and that’s like a roadmap of itself, you know. And all of it, when it comes to hunting, every single thing that you’re looking at, it’s like a little clue or a little sign telling you where you need to go. And um, and it just feels like—you know, it’s like going to a store to get groceries. Like, you know what you’re hunting for, you know what you want to come home with, and now, you’re reading all this information in front of you to lead you there. And when I finally do find the fish that I’m looking for, or I find the habitat where it looks like this fish will be, then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the more relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air to

 

So, there’s not—

 

–to do this.

 

–a ton of adrenalin running? I’m gonna get a fish, I’m gonna go after him, I got this one breath. Nothing like that?

 

For me, those are always the things I have to shut off. Because they—it—it’s right there, especially when you do come across, you know, that prize fish that you want to eat for dinner. It’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking. You already put in all this work, you don’t want to blow it. And there can be so much adrenalin running through you, and that can just suck up that oxygen so quickly if you let it. So, um, so I’ll even like, go the point of checking myself. Or if I see a really nice fish, I’ll tell myself, I’m not going down there for the fish; I’m going down there to take a nap. Like, I’ll really say that to myself in my brain. And I’ll just take a drop and get down there, and I’ll just kind of lay down and just really try and tell myself that, like, I’m just here to relax. And instantly, that’ll—

 

All in the space of a couple of minutes.

Right; yes. An—and that’s, I think, what really triggers the curiosity of the fish. I’m not somebody who I aggressively chase after fish. I use techniques that I’ve learned over the years that will allow the fish to come to me.

 

And that’s different from how other spearfishers pursue fish?

 

A lot of times when I go diving with other people, um, yeah, you definitely see just the aggression come through, and the adrenalin come through, and people are chasing down their fish. But um, in my opinion, I mean, you—you can’t out-swim a fish; right? So, um, it just makes so much more sense to think of techniques that are gonna bring them right to me.

 

So, you look harmless and relaxing.

 

I’ll do things. I’ll—I’ll mimic what, like, a ray looks like when it’s feeding in the bottom. And I’ll—I’ll definitely just do things to imitate other creatures, and it will pique the curiosity of the fish and bring them in. They’ll warily come in, and the whole time, your … your time is ticking, ‘cause you have to go soon. Um, and—but when the fish does come in close enough, I’ll always then just make sure that, you know, I’m in range, it’s a close shot, that I know where I’m aiming, and that I know I can pull it off. And … yeah. And then, you—you hit your target, an—and after that, it just depends if it’s a big fish, it could be a really big fight, it could be a really big struggle. Um, my goal is always to kind of make the best shot right through the brain, so it just rolls over instantly. But you don’t always get that, you know.

 

Do you still use three-prong spears?

 

I do; I do. I use—I use uh, both a spear gun and a three-prong pole spear. So, it all depends. These days, I like to just use a three-prong a lot more, just um …

 

Even though you have to pull back?

Yeah. I really—I really enjoy it. I—I enjoy both very much when it comes to freediving, as opposed to scuba diving, um, you know, the—I kind of feel there’s a lot less rules. Um, you don’t have to worry about going up slow, anything like that. That breath is never gonna expand be more than the breath it was when you took it at the surface. You’re a lot more limited, you may have to work a lot harder, um, but at the same time, I do feel like a—you know, less goes wrong. And um, and the same with the equipment used. I mean, obviously, there’s more efficient ways to hunt.

 

I have to admit that as you talk, I just feel a lot of fear for you. I fear blood from fish that you’ve speared attracting sharks in a frenzy. I fear you not realizing that your breath is up, and you black out underwater.

 

M-hm.

 

How do you deal with all of these things as a professional in that way?

 

Um, those things are all very real fears to have. I um … with sharks and whatnot, I think it just … it took repetition. I mean, after having to—to be in the water with so many sharks, you finally start getting used to it. In the beginning, uh, when—you know, I remember the first time a tiger shark just came and stole my fish, and I was just so freaked out that I just—

 

Did you think the shark was coming for you?

 

I totally thought so. I thought, like, come back and want to eat me. And I just wanted to leave everything and get to shore. Um, and … you know, and every time I’d see a shark, it was kinda my reaction, like, Oh, let’s get out of here. And—

 

Take my fish.

 

Yeah; take anything you want. You know, just don’t take me. Um, and—and then, there was just this one day where um … I don’t know; I think I had just gotten more comfortable over time and I was fighting with this fish, and this Galapagos shark came up, coming in hot to steal my fish, and just this hunter’s instinct took over me where I was just like, No, I’m sick of this. And I just grabbed my fish and pulled it in even closer to me, grabbed the fish, and just like, faced off with the shark. And as soon as I did, that shark turned and wanted nothing to do with me. And I’m not saying like, oh, everyone should do this, but I have just noticed that um, since then, like that is what I learned about sharks, is that if you … if you show them that you are the dominant predator, then they’re gonna treat you like that. And—and every single time I did the, Oh, take the fish and leave me alone, it would only get the sharks more interested in me. It would only make them that much punchier. And so—so, once I saw that—you know, and that was, like I said, just an instinct that took over, um, I let that instinct take over a lot more. And every single time a shark came around, whether I had a fish on or not, I would just really stop and see what type of energy the shark has. Are they swimming totally erratic and fast, and you know, and coming in like, with aggression, and if so, that would mean that I’d have to raise my aggression to that level. And I’m not gonna back away from it, I’m not gonna curl up and be small, because that just kind of symbolizes prey. And so, instead, if I make myself big, if I face them off, if I—

 

How do you make yourself big?

 

I mean, it’s just—mainly, it’s all body language. It really is. Uh, if a—you know, this one time, this tiger shark was coming straight at me from the surface, and I was like, Oh, god, I don’t want to do this right now, but I know from experience it’s the safest thing to do. So, I just faced off, and just swam straight at the tiger shark. And it’s like playing Chicken, and um, an—and sure enough, it just turned at the last minute and was uninterested. Um, and it’s just the same—it’s just mainly your body language, um … and—and just the direction of which you’re swimming. You know, prey usually isn’t gonna swim directly at the predator. And so, so—

 

So, you’re notifying the shark that you’re not prey.

 

Right. And then, it’s the same like when I s—talk about hunting the fish. You know, when I—when I … I’m hunting the fish, I notice that it doesn’t help me if I’m gonna swim at the fish. Because that’s just saying I’m a predator, and the fish run away.

Kimi Werner became such an accomplished free diver that she decided to test her skills on a national level. She started winning competitions and soon discovered that it created a very different relationship with the fish that she had previously hunted for food.

 

You were a sensation on the free diving tour competition. But then … and it looked like—I mean, you were just winning, and you were just—everyone was talking about you. And then, you dropped out of it.

 

M-hm.

 

What happened?
Well, that was … that was all um … the spearfishing competitions that I was doing, and which started off as such a beautiful thing for me. I had um … fallen into the hands of some really great mentors that just helped me so much, and before I knew it, you know, I just um, was becoming really good at spearfishing. And … and then, I heard of, you know, all these tournaments and stuff, and I definitely wanted to see how I measured up with other divers, and um, yeah, entered the national championships, and won that. And just went on this—

 

I think you won every category you—

 

I did.

 

–entered.

 

Yeah.

 

Championship in Rhode Island.

 

Right; yes. And that—that was—that will always be such a special time for me. Because I set a goal, and I really wanted to go there and represent Hawaii, and just see where all of these passions, you know, could take me. And um, and everything came into play during that tournament. Everything I learned from my dad, everything I learned from other mentors, all the canoe paddling I had done. I mean, it was a kayak competition where you have six hours. And I just remember, you know, how good it felt to be on a kayak and just like … knowing my way on the ocean surface, and knowing my way underneath. And even if I wasn’t—it was my first time ever diving outside of Hawaii. It was so different, and it definitely didn’t come without struggle in my days of trying to figure it out. But on—on tournament day, everything worked out, and I ended up winning just, yeah, across the board.

 

And you continued to compete, and then you were done with it.

 

I did; I continued to compete for a while. And um … you know, that first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special. And coming back home to Hawaii was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion. And um, the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for. But um, but I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like … I just always had a title to defend, you know, or like after—you know, I—I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me. And um … and I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and all—you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food. And once I realized that, I didn’t—I didn’t like it. I just realized it’s changing me. You know, it’s changing this—this thing that’s so sacred to me. It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this. And um … and it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition, and um … and … this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again. Am I really gonna do this to it? Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing—chasing titles? Like, I—I—I didn’t like that. And um, so just for those own personal reasons of—of how I found it affecting me, um, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and—

 

M-hm.

 

–you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed—

 

M-hm.

 

–in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely. I mean, it was—it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in … you know, the peak of what I thought what could have been my career. You know, I had sponsors now, and um … you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me, and um, and all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it. And um, it—it—it let down a lot of people, and um, definitely disappointed people. And—and for myself too, I mean, I—I did feel—I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost. I didn’t—I didn’t really know who I was without—without that. I—it had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department. It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more. And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, um, I definitely felt like a loser. You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt um … I felt like I didn’t quite know … if I would like … you know. I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have. I didn’t know if it was—you know, how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

Did you have a sense of what you would do to replace the competitions?

 

All I just told myself is, I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that. And that’s the feeling that I wanted. I didn’t quite know wh at type of path that would take me on, and how it would affect my career, um, but I just knew I wanted that back. I wanted to go in the water and not have the pressure of competition on my shoulders, and not look at a fish and calculate how many points it would be worth. I wanted that gone.

 

What happened, then?

I—it took me a while, actually. Uh, it was probably a year um, where a lot of times I would go out diving, and … all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be, you know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet. It—it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting. Um, and … it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish. And then, I really would beat myself up. Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I don’t even—can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up. And um … and I got pretty depressed, but um … but—but you know, but through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, um, couple friends of mine like said, You need to get back in the water. Like, let’s go. And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still—still fighting itself, and I—I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have anymore. And um … and so, I’m like, Let’s just pack it up and go, guys. I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home. And they said, Okay, let’s go. But then, I said, You know what? Let me just take one last drop. And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive. And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe. But I just took a dive, and um, didn’t even tell them what—uh, you know, just took—told them to watch me, you know, took a dive. And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand. I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand. And—and I laid there, and I let every single … critic come through my head. Every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come, and I listened to every single, you know, put-down, worry, concern, fear. And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just … still waited, held my breath. Okay, what else you got; give it to me. You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left. And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, that—that I, you know, hadn’t already heard. Like, it just went quiet. And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.

 

 

I’m thinking of your buddies watching you from above, and thinking, She’s down there a really long time.

 

With her face in the sand.

 

M-hm.

 

But they let you be.

 

They did; they did. And then, um, as soon as I picked my head up, I just realized like, the feeling’s back. You know, that feeling is back. Like—because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish. But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home. And—and when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it. Um, I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me. And soon as I came up, I—I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew. They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like, You’re back. And I’m like, I’m back. And that was that. And after that, then I just started um, diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have. I’m gonna do everything I can to—to keep this pure. Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner became a freediving ambassador for Patagonia, a company whose mission is to protect the land and ocean. She had an opportunity to swim with a great white shark, not to sensationalize such an encounter, but to show the beauty of the interaction of species.

 

Basically, my dive partner just started shaking my arm and screaming. And I put my face back in the water, there was great white literally like, from me to you. And I just instantly like— I heard myself scream, but it wasn’t a scream of fear; it was more like … the scream that you have when you’re like, catching a wave. Like, it was like a squeal. Here goes, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, I just swam right at that shark, and as soon as I did, she veered off, thankfully. And um, and I just think it was one of those situations where had I reacted by backing away, swimming away, like trying to scramble for the boat, I might not be here right now. And um, but as soon as I swam at her, she just kinda backed off, and then I watched the way that she was swimming.

 

Why do you say, she?

 

Oh, because you could tell um—

 

–yeah, it was a female shark. Yeah; they have these claspers by their tail, and um, yeah, you can tell. But—which I only learned later. Once she backed off, then I just observed her, and I just saw that she was really mellow. That she was coming up out of curiosity, but there was nothing about her body language that said aggression. I mean, her fins were completely out. When sharks get aggressive, their fins come down, they arch their back.

 

But remember, you’re on the floor of the reef, curling up, but you are aggressive. So—

 

Right.

 

Can’t sharks play the same game?

 

They can. I don’t think that animals are quite as manipulative as humans. I think a lot of times with animals, what you see is what you get. Um, maybe that’s why I like them so much. And um … and so … so, yeah; in watching her body language, it just became apparent that she was moving really slow, and granted, yes, she mostly definitely could have switched and eaten me at any second. Um, but again, she didn’t leave the area, so it didn’t really make sense for me to scramble back to the boat. Instead, I just kept an eye on her, and she was going down, and like doing circles, but she would come up. But every time she came up, I just knew, okay, I have to swim down, I have to show that I’m just as interested in her. But this one time, she just slowed down, and she leveled off right in front of me. And I had hit that negative buoyancy point where I was already sinking, no matter what, so at this point, I had two options. And it was, I could make a drastic turn and kick back up, which I’d have to kick back up to the surface, which didn’t sound like a good idea, or basically, I was going to cross the path of the shark. And so, once I realized I was, I’m like, Well, whatever you do, just make it smooth. And as soon as she came under me, I just reached out, let her know I’m right here, touched her dorsal fin, and we just went for a swim together.

 

And it was fine with the shark.

 

It was crazy how fine it was. I mean, if that animal, a seventeen-foot great white shark didn’t want me touching her on her back, I’m sure she’d let me know. But um, but it was amazing. I just felt her, and this huge animal, you could just feel this calm energy. And she just even slowed down even more, to the point where her tail was barely moving, and we were just gliding together.

 

Well, if the shark recognized you as another predator, wouldn’t you be considered competition for food, same food?

 

You definitely can be, and I’ve seen uh, some sharks be territorial. And again, it’s just one of those times where it’s like, you need to just hold your ground until you can get to a safer place. Um, but in this case, no, I don’t think this—this big lady had any problem with getting her own food, and so, I don’t think that it was anything territorial or anything competitive. I think we were just two predators swimming together.

 

Kimi Werner travels around the world working on film projects, speaking, diving and meeting people who, like her, are living sustainably and thriving in nature.

Mahalo to Kimi Werner of Waialua for sharing your love of the ocean with us and thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, um … you know, we’re—we’re just—we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to—we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and um … and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea

 

Growing up in rural Maui, Kimi Werner joined her father as he free dived and hunted for fish to feed his family. Werner would discover her own passion for free diving and spearfishing, eventually becoming the U.S. National Spearfishing Champion in 2008. However, it was those early experiences living simply and off the land that inspired her to develop a more holistic relationship with the ocean and helped her define her own distinct path. As an artist, chef and world traveler, Werner combines her talents with her vast knowledge of the ocean as a speaker and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 8, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 12, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I swam out to this reef and I could kinda see some waves breaking on it. So, I knew, oh, there’s a reef out there, you know, and I swam out there, totally freaked out, really, the whole time. And that was another lesson for me, too, is that I realized that all those years spent in the water with my dad, I think as a child, you have this sense of security. And every time I looked over and I saw my dad, I just felt like nothing bad could happen to me, no matter what. If I felt scared ‘cause we were so deep, if I felt scared because of sharks, I would look over, I’d see my dad, and I would just know I’m safe. And so, one of the things I would have to do, even as a grown woman, when I would swim out and I’d start to like, feel a little creeped out, I would just imagine my dad swimming right next to me. And every time I did, it would just calm me down.

 

Kimi Werner often overcomes her fears of the unknown by recalling the life lessons and values that she learned early in life. This has given her confidence and courage in pursuing her dreams. Kimi Werner, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, is a national spearfishing champion, a chef, an award-winning artist, and a motivational speaker. In Kimi Werner’s early years in rural Haiku, Maui, her family lived primarily off the bounty of the land and the ocean. And that laid the foundation for her passions in life.

 

My life was just one that was really focused around nature. We lived on this property where we had absolutely no neighbors in sight, and so, the only things that I really knew were just my family and the natural world that was right outside of my doorstep, really. Our house was like, a little shack, pretty much just falling apart at the seams. And I remember I could never really explain to kids like, what color it was, ‘cause it just depended on what kinda moss was growing on all the rotten wood. But at the same time, it was just an absolute magical childhood. We spent out days outside, and gathering food with our family.

 

What do you remember gathering?

 

I mean, everything, really. My mom was such a forager, and she always taught me at a young age what was edible and what wasn’t. So, any time I’d go exploring in the woods, I would just come home with like, you know, armfuls and shirt-fuls of strawberry guavas, or you know, even just like, white ginger and you suck the nectar out of it. So, anything, really.

 

How did your mom know how to forage, and what was your dad like?

 

My mom, she’s kind of one of the only Japanese hippies that I know. But she was just like this very … I mean, she’s a hippie at heart, really. She didn’t grow up with a lot of money. She grew up here on Oahu, the very strict conservative family, but later in life moved to Maui. And she just loved being resourceful. I think that’s what it was that she got from growing up poor, was just the fascination with how you can be resourceful. And combining that with her love for nature, she was really good at just finding magic and finding resource in everything around us.

 

So, you say you didn’t have a lot of money; you had these natural resources. Did you feel poor?

 

I never felt poor. I mean, I remember when I did start school in kindergarten, like kind of realizing then that I had less material things than all of the other kids. But I never felt poor. In those years, especially, I would say I felt so rich with just activity and fun. I mean, every morning, my job was to go out and gather the chicken eggs from under the house, and pick whatever fruit were ripe, and to spend the days underwater diving with my dad, and just watching him bring me up fish and lobster for dinner. Like, that doesn’t feel poor.

 

You would float above him as he went way down?

 

I was just a tagalong. I was about five years old when he started taking me diving. And I would just float, and just watch him. My main goal was to keep up with him. And I remember, as long as I could see the bubbles of his fins, I knew I was going in the right way. And then, when he would take a drop, then I’d be able to catch up, catch my breath, and put in my orders for dinner, really.

 

And would he actually be able to get you what you wanted, the type of fish you wanted?

 

He would. He would pride himself on that, basically. If my mom wanted to eat octopus or if she wanted to eat lobster, or fish, whatever it was that she wanted, he always, you know, would see it through and make sure he got that for us.

 

You mentioned the year you started kindergarten. That was also the year, I believe, your mother started a different kind of class; college.

 

Yes; yeah. My mom, she was a waitress while my dad was a plasterer, a construction worker. And so basically, he was trying to kinda start his own plastering company, but it was a slow start. And my mom was pretty much living off of her tips as a waitress. But they saved up enough money to put my mom through nursing school at MCC, and so when I was five years old, she was forty-one, and that’s when she went to college. It was such a memorable thing, because of how my mom just never took it for granted. You know, I think when she grew up, she did have a hard life and didn’t, you know, have a lot of luxuries, and school wasn’t an option for her then. And so, later in life, after having us and getting us to an age where we’re now in school, and having just enough money saved up to finally pursue her own dream to become a nurse, when she went to school, I mean, she just aced it because she was so happy to be there. You know, it wasn’t the privilege that I had. I went to KCC, but just going there straight after high school, you know, it was like thirteenth grade for me and whatnot. But for my mom, she took it really seriously, didn’t take it for granted at all, and just learned everything she could possibly learn while there.

 

What did she do with her degree?

 

She became a nurse in the emergency room of Maui Memorial Hospital.

 

So, bye-bye shack that changes colors; right?

 

Right.

 

With money in the pocket, where did you move?

 

So, I mean, when she got her job at the emergency room, that was also around the exact same time when my dad’s company actually flourished, and he started getting employees and started making more money. So, it was a pretty drastic change. You know, it’s not like we were rich all of a sudden, but we did have a lot more money and access to material things than we ever had before. And so, we moved from that old little shack in Haiku to a subdivision in Makawao. And it was my first time ever living anywhere that had like a paved road, or neighbors, and first time ever buying eggs from the store instead of collecting them myself.

 

How did they taste?

 

They were horrible. I mean, that was one thing I completely remember, was just that that was always my favorite breakfast, and when we moved into this new house that my dad built, and my mom served me eggs, like, I just ate them and I was like, What’s wrong with these? Like, they don’t taste so good. And she told me, Oh, they’re store-bought. And I remember at that young age, I was seven, just thinking like, Oh, they’re fake. You know. I just related store-bought to fake, and didn’t really want them anymore. It’s crazy what a shocking transition that was. And even though I knew we were happy to be making this forward progress, I could tell my parents were really proud of themselves and happy, I definitely just felt a really big sense of loss. I think we all kinda felt the same. I might have been the one that voiced it the most of how much I just wanted to go back and live there. But I do think my whole family, even with the advantages and the good we saw coming out of it, I do think we all did feel a sense of loss.

 

It’s amazing how formative that experience of foraging as a little kid and diving with your dad, I mean, it seems to have shaped your life. That’s what you do as a career, to a great extent.

 

It really has. You know, I think like anything, you adjust and you adapt. And I definitely did adjust and adapt to the new more modern life that was given to me, and I got bicycles, and nicer clothes, and friends, and you know, got used to the store-bought eggs. And we just evolved that way. But I think it was later in life when I was an adult, still kinda going through the motions of what seemed like progress, and was there with my, you know, degree and my job, and doing everything I could to kind of connect the dots of what should make a fulfilling happy life, but still, there was just something in me that just was longing in a way, for the past, and realizing that it had been that long, and there was still just something calling me back to those really early childhood memories. It is what shaped my life. I think for the longest time, I believed that you have to let go of the past, and you can’t go backwards. And even though I did accept that, finally, when I was about twenty-four years old, I just kind of started to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn’t something that’s just left in the past; maybe it is something that I can incorporate into my world today.

 

Kimi Werner graduated with a degree in culinary arts when she was twenty-one. She took jobs in the restaurant industry, but soon realized that was not her calling. She left that career to become an artist, but that wasn’t fully satisfying, either. She needed something that would bring her interests together.

 

My main connection to the ocean at that time was paddling canoe. And it was one day, when we were at a canoe regatta, when some of my friends, some of my guy friends from the club brought some fish and put it on the grill. You know, when I was those fish hit the grill, I did just get a sense of just like, nostalgic bliss. And I think at the same time, it served as proof that maybe this is something I can do, and if those are my most fond memories, you know, the diving with my dad, and whatnot, maybe it’s time that I learn to just dive on my own, and know how to feed myself. You know.

 

Did you check with him about it? How did you do that? Did you broach that to him?

 

I did. He was living on Maui, and so it’s not like I could just go jump in the water with him. But I remember just telling him, You know, I wish that I had learned that from you. I spent all those years cleaning the fish, you know, doing all the little grunt work, cleaning the fish, helping Grandma or Mom cook the fish, and tagging along with you and holding the fish. And you never even taught me to spear the fish, and now I want to learn, and I don’t know where to start. And he just told me, like, Oh, no, I taught you. You know, you’ll see. And he was right. I hate to admit it; I always do, but he was absolutely right.

 

Because you could see what he was doing down there. You know, I’m sure he had special places he hid, and positions he took.

 

Well, basically. So, I tried to reach out and find teachers, and ask people to take me diving. And when I wasn’t really getting called back for that or anything, or getting invited, then I did just go get a three-prong spear, you know, like the one that I saw him have, and I just went for a swim one day.

 

Where?

 

I actually went for a swim like, towards Kahuku, kind of past Turtle Bay. But went for a swim in Kahuku side, and I just realized like, as soon as I started swimming, like, any fish that swam by me, I knew what fish that was. Like, I had my whole fish identification down, because as a kid, I knew what I wanted for dinner, and I knew how to put in my orders. And then, I remembered where they lived, how they acted, and all of those years just spent simply observing really taught me more than I realized. And I gave it a try, and I was able to just come home with just six little fry fish. I think it was like, three kole’s and two menpachi’s, and an aweoweo. You know, just a humble catch of fish. But the feeling of scaling it and cooking it, and sharing it with my roommates at the time, but just knowing that I went out with my own two hands, you know, and got this meal, and I’m providing for myself, it was more fulfilling than any cooking experience I had in my whole culinary career. And so, that was when I knew, like, this is what it’s about for me.

 

It’s a hyphenated career that you have now.

 

It is.

 

It’s painter, it’s diver, it’s fisher.

 

M-hm.

 

What else?

 

Artist. I work a lot on productions and travel.

 

Speaker; you speak to groups.

 

Yes; a public speaker. Yeah. So, it’s a mixed bag of tricks, really. When I was a little kid, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always a long hyphenated answer, you know, depending on whatever it was that I was into in that moment, whether I wanted to be, you know, a singer, veterinarian, artist. But it was always that type of hyphenated answer. And I think as I got older, I just started to realize that when it comes to, you know, being guided by adults, that you’re not supposed to have these long crazy answers, you’re supposed to choose one career and find your path there. And that’s kind of how we were taught.

 

Well, you did try it; culinary arts.

 

I did try it. I definitely tried it. And I do remember even then, even when I signed up to go to college, knowing like, But I really also want to do something with art, and I don’t know if this is all I want to do. And I put like a secret wish out there, you know, to the universe. Like, if I just go on this path, like, will you please just let something else fall in my lap and, you know, guide me along. And then, the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a degree, and there was nothing that fell in my lap. And I think feeling the unfulfillment, feeling just not satisfied completely, it made me realize like, you can’t just wait for something to fall in your lap. Like, if you really want to do it, if you really want to be an artist, that’s gonna take courage, you have to just go try. You know, if you want to try this diving stuff, like, stop waiting for it. Like, go do it. And if you fail, you fail, but you’re gonna feel like this for the rest of your life if you don’t try.

 

You know, you talked a lot about being very happy in those early surroundings and with your family when you were a kid. And then, I’ve heard you refer to unfulfillment, and you know, not quite happy. Tell me the difference between those things. I mean, it sounds like you spent much of your life trying to get that full happiness back.

 

Right; definitely. I think when it comes to me, I think the happiness comes from just the most simple things. And I believe that’s why at an early age, I did feel so content. I mean, it’s easy to say, Oh, you were just a kid, you didn’t have all these responsibilities, it’s easy to be happy then, you’re an adult now, you know, you’re not supposed to feel like that. But I don’t really think so. I think that at that early age, I was content because I just had these basic simple pleasures that took hard work. You know, none of it came easy. When it comes to getting your own food, or not having a lot of convenience in your life, you have to work for everything. But I think that it is that hard work that ends up becoming so meaningful, that ends up giving you values, and that ends up being so character-building.

 

A lot of it involves intuition and observing.

 

Yes; definitely.

 

You’re learning a lot as you do it.

 

You do; you definitely do. And I think sometimes, I mean, maybe it really is just through these more simple lifestyles for me that you do get that much more in touch with yourself, with your natural instincts, with your intuition. I mean, those are most definitely things that you learn from hunting. And when you get to know the core of who you are that well, to the point where you are satisfied and can smile about it, everything else just seems to melt away. And I think sometimes when we get focused more on a life of just convenience and …

 

And cramming in a lot of things to keep you busy.

 

Cramming it all in. Yeah. It can just complicate everything, and before we know it, we’re chasing things we don’t even need, and we’re doing things that we don’t even want to do. And why? You know, I think probably because of just the pressure that we feel from society, or from other people, and going through these motions of what we feel we’re supposed to do with our life, rather than just really evaluating it at the heart and asking yourself what it is that you really want.

 

Kimi Werner’s life lessons were not all learned as a child. When she trained to become an expert free diver, learning to hold her breath underwater for almost five minutes, she realized that her new skills translated into different values and life lessons.

 

How do you hold your breath that long?

 

It’s all about relaxing. I mean, a hundred percent, I think that’s what it’s about. I can break down the physiology, and you know, talk about the hemoglobin and all of that within us and how it works, but really, what it comes down to is your brain. It just comes down to making that screaming voice in your head, the one that’s saying like, I’m scared, you need to breathe, let’s get out of here, you know, all of those things that go through your mind, it’s about switching it off and just saying, I got this. And having confidence in yourself, and trusting the process that you’re doing.

 

Would that work on land, as well?

 

I think so. I definitely think so. You know, everything about panic, about fear, it’s not just the vibrations and the energy that’s used up within that panic, and the adrenalin, and whatnot that takes away your oxygen, but it’s also how your body starts reacting to it. Usually, when we start to panic, we start to do things a lot faster, you know, and you see it when you’re late for work and looking for your car keys. And you’re doing things, but you’re not really making any more progress. Now, you’re dropping stuff, you know, and it’s the same with being underwater. If you start to panic, you’re gonna start to kick faster, and it’s gonna be counterproductive because you’re using more muscles, which are using more oxygen, which there goes your breath. And so, really, for me, whenever I feel that sense of panic come over me, it’s now become an indicator that just makes everything go numb, switch off, and just assess the situation calmly, and it makes me actually slow down. Like no matter what, when I feel that sense of panic, I slow down.

 

So, when you’re late for work and you lose your keys, all of a sudden, you’re moving slowly.

 

I try to apply it to land all the time. Or you know, or if something really gets you upset, for example. You know, if something gets you upset, a lot of times, we have this need to panic and to react, and that can come out in the way that we talk to people, the way that we react to, you know, the person that’s trying to do their job, or trying to serve you something, or whatever. And it doesn’t get you anywhere good, usually. It usually really helps if when everything goes wrong, if you just slow down and you just look for an actual solution.

 

I like your word, assess.

 

M-hm.

 

Kind of dispassionately take a look, a little three-sixty, and figure out what to do.

 

Yes. I think that’s exactly it. You know, you have to look at the situation neutrally, and then, you can go from there. You know. But I think reacting out of panic um, it heightens things and oftentimes, just makes things messier than they need to be in any situation.

 

You have lost people in your life young. And you do take risks that other people don’t take.

 

Right.

 

Has that affected your feelings about the value of life, or the fragility of life?

 

Most definitely. When I was a senior in high school, you know, my high school boy friend at the time, we were very close to his dad. And one day, I had a paddling regatta in Hana, and his dad had come out to surprise us, and it was just a beautiful day. But on the way home, he was hit on a head-on collision, from actually a cousin, a family member of mine, who was high on heroin at the time. And basically, that was my first like, true feeling of just loss, such a beautiful life gone. That’s what really showed me the fragility of our mortality, and it did make me just start to evaluate my own life. I was seventeen and then, I turned eighteen; I just kept thinking about that and just realizing that even as a teenager, that I should be living a lot better and that I should be a lot happier, because if life can be taken just that easily, like my goodness, I want to make the most of it.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause at that age, many people see success, worldly success as the goal, and not a conscious effort to be happy.

 

Yeah; and that’s what it came down to for me. I mean, I kinda had an epiphany as a senior in high school, and just realized how silly it all is, the whole façade. You know, even in high school, I think there’s just so much of it that’s just built on image and expectation from the clothes that we think we need to wear or buy. And I would go to school and look around, and realize that these are the same kids that I grew up with since I was like, so little, and half the time walking around in school, we’re not even smiling at each other or saying hi or engaging, ‘cause we’re all so afraid of just not fitting in. We’re all so like, conditioned to be going through these motions of acting how we think we’re supposed to act. Everything gets so based on image around your peers at that age that even just something like showing kindness, saying hello, those things get forgotten. We all do crave human connection, we all crave being accepted and connection, but we look for it in ways that maybe aren’t really the true connection of it, and that life’s too short to live like that. I mean, still, once you see the truth, you can’t un-see it, and so, it is something that does just help keep me in line, and how important it is to really just know that as long as you’re trying your best in life, you’re giving love out there to this world. Then give yourself a hand and just, you know, love yourself, and let all the critics and all the insecurities fall away, because you’re doing a good job.

 

Kimi Werner sees her way to happiness and can’t un-see that, either. Mahalo to Kimi Werner, currently in 2016 a resident of Waialua, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you see this career as extending over a long time?

 

I think I do. I never really knew where any of this was going, whether it was art or spearfishing, or whatnot. I’ve never been like, the ten-year plan girl. I’ve been like, can I pay my rent this month? Yes. That’s great; you’re doing awesome in life. And now, it has become something that I can find a lot more comfort in, and I understand that because I’m making decisions that are truthfully, you know, holding true to my values, that’s what’s making it long-lasting.

 

[END]



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Eddie and Myrna Kamae

 

In honor of the late Eddie Kamae, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2011.

 

Eddie Kamae, legendary Hawaii musician and a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance of the 1970s, shares early life lessons and musical experiences and how these helped shape his long-running career. Eddie and Myrna talk about some of the most interesting people they have met over their 20+ year journey making documentaries, and reveal how their meeting was love at first sound.

 

Original air date: Tues., July 26, 2011

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, January 11 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, January 15 at 4:00 pm.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

EDDIE: Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you.”

 

MYRNA: And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.

 

Celebrated musician and filmmaker, Eddie Kamae, and producing partner and wife, Myrna; next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Life partners in work and marriage for almost a half century, Eddie and Myrna Kamae have earned national acclaim for preserving on film some of Hawai‘i’s unique cultural treasures. The Kamaes credit many individuals, whose gifts of knowledge and generous support have culminated in the establishment of their Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.

 

[SINGING]

 

Eddie Kamae has distinguished himself as a singer, musician, composer, author, and film director. As a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, Eddie was already famous for his virtuoso playing of the ukulele, when he joined forces in 1959 with the legendary singer and slack key guitar master, Gabby Pahinui, along with bassist Joe Marshall and steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers, to form The Sons of Hawaii. Edward Leilani Kamae was born in Honolulu in 1927 to a family comprised of ten children. Eddie’s musical path was influenced in part by his father, Samuel Hoapili Kamae. Eddie Kamae’s mother, Alice Ululani Opunui, explained her kindness towards strangers, telling Eddie that, “All these things we do for each other, we feed them more than food; we’re feeding the soul”. It’s a philosophy that has informed the work of Eddie and Myrna Kamae throughout the decades.

 

EDDIE: There was this boy sleeping in the park, and so my mother tell me, You go get him and bring him here. So I go there, I go—I woke him up. Mister, mister. Yeah. Come, come, my mother wants to see you. So he picked up his things, and he came to the house.

 

How old was he?

 

EDDIE: In his teens. And so, he came to the house, and my mother said, “You don’t sleep there anymore, you sleep here”. Now, we all sleep in the living room, you know, so he’s going sleep next to us now. We get nine brothers now, you know. I go, “Oh, wow”. But that’s the way it was. He stayed with us all that time. As the years went by, one day the father came by. And the father wanted to take his son home, but he didn’t want to go. See, he wanted to stay with my mother because he felt my mother adopted him. He said he didn’t want to go, so the father don’t want to leave. So my father went out and told the father, Go, leave. So the father left, and that was the end of the father, and he stayed with me and brothers, and my mother at our place.

 

What was his name?

 

EDDIE: Peter; Peter Woo.

 

And what happened to him? What became of Peter Woo?

 

EDDIE: Well, I think he got married and settled down somewhere. See, my mother, she just loves people. No matter who they are.

 

Was your dad like that too?

 

EDDIE: My father was strictly a man that minds his own business.

 

But he would allow your mom to bring in—

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes.

 

—people to eat and share.

 

EDDIE: He won’t stop that. He was part Cherokee Indian. He just come and go. But he always told all of us, “What I want from you, you are to respect the elders, no matter who they are. If they’re hungry, you feed them”. And always, he said, “And you help them”. [SINGING]

 

How did you learn to play the ukulele?

 

EDDIE: Well, my brother Joe. My oldest brother was a bus driver, found a ukulele on the bus, brought it home. My brother Joe would tune the instrument and play, so I liked to listen to that sound that he was doing. Well, he put the instrument down, so I figured, I watched him while he was playing the chord progressions. And so, when he go to work, so I go get the ukulele, I sit next to the radio, I turn on the radio, whatever music is, I just strum away, just feel like I’m playing with the music. But I’m just enjoying myself. Those days, yeah. That’s what got me involved in music. See?

 

Do you think you were good, right from the beginning?

 

EDDIE: Well, I thought so, myself.

 

[CHUCKLE] And you were actually playing songs from the beginning?

 

EDDIE: Yes. I just listened to the music. See, it was music by—well, I love Spanish music, yeah, because it was Xavier Cugat. His music. And I love one song that he plays all the time, and I followed him.   So it was titled “Porque?” See? And I loved the song, so I just followed him. But the rhythm section is what I liked. See, I just listen to the rhythm, and I just play the rhythm. The feeling of it, you know. So, then my father would take me to the jam session, Charley’s Cab, right on King Street right across the Hawaiian Electric building. So they had this taxi stand there, so my father would take me over there on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s where all the entertainers would come and sing, and play music. So I go over there and play my ukulele. And what I liked about the whole idea, people throw money on the stage, and the musicians pick it up and put it in my pocket. I liked that. [CHUCKLE]

 

Good incentive.

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes. So I just play, and my father just smile, he’s happy. So then he takes me back the next day. Then I can see that in him, until one day he asked me, “You should play and sing Hawaiian music”. And I told my father, “It’s too simple”. I wasn’t interested. But he never asked me again, but it’s the only thing he ever asked me. So when he passed away, that’s how I got into Hawaiian music, listening to Gabby, sitting down and playing with him. That was it.

 

What about Hawaiian music is too simple?

 

EDDIE: Well, it was. What I heard was simple. Chord progression is just totally simple. So Gabby, I heard him play, I like. Gabby had that personality. Well, he was a great musician. Also, that I found that was interesting, he had a voice that would carry a tune, you know. But secondly, he can get funny at the same time. And thirdly, he can get naughty.

 

Naughty, meaning …

 

EDDIE: Yeah. He just telling people, “Shut up”. And I couldn’t believe it. I said, “This is Hawaiian music; now what is this?” I didn’t know that. But the people out there are laughing. And Gabby and go, “Oh, shut up”, because they’re demanding that he sing this song and that song, and he has his own forte. But that’s the way he is. But if he see the old folks, or somebody that have money, that’s who he’s gonna sing for. The guy gonna buy him a drink. Marshall sings along with Gabby. You know, Marshall. And because he went to Kamehameha School, so he knew the language. So he would harmonize with Gabby. But there are times Gabby sings the wrong lyrics, and Marshall, he look at my steel player and me, he go, “What’s wrong with that monkey?” So he calls Gabby monkey every time. And Gabby wink at us, and he go sing something that’s not right. And Marshall turn to us, he said, “There goes that monkey again”.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: So they had this routine of kidding one another, you know. I said to myself, “By golly, this is interesting”.

 

While performing Hawaiian music with the Sons of Hawaii, Eddie began his quest to find the sources of Hawaiian musical traditions. In that process, he sought the help of two key cultural resources; Pilahi Paki and Mary Kawena Pukui. Both women were generous with their encouragement, and with their knowledge.

 

MYRNA: Kawena Pukui was really central in Eddie’s life for guidance. He’d always go to her. Even before I met Eddie in the early 60s, he had this strong bond with Kawena, and she would guide him. And he would come back and bring music he’d found with, maybe, one verse, and nobody knew the rest of it. And he could hand it to Kawena, and she would write the rest of the verses for him. She just had this incredible memory, and just loved to do things with Eddie that would then be remembered by everyone.

 

EDDIE: She always tells me, “It’s out there”.

 

Go find it?

 

EDDIE: Yes. “Ho‘omau, Eddie, ho‘omau”. Continue on. So I just look at the music, and I look at the lyrics, I find no problem. So then, I can play it and sing it.

 

And you couldn’t hear those songs anywhere else, you had to—

 

EDDIE: No.

 

—bring them back.

 

EDDIE: Yes; yes.

 

What’s the difference between the old songs, and the songs that had become popular in their place?

 

EDDIE: There’s no difference. The old people had their own way of presenting the music. But as time go by, change will come. Kawena told me that. She always tell me, “Just do it, it’s important.” So I had a chance to focus on what I want to do, and I just do it.

 

You know, Hawaiian composers then and now, there’s a lot of double entendre, there are a lot of hidden meanings, layers.

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

Can you always tell what the song is about?

 

EDDIE: Oh, if my tutu’s laugh at me, I know already.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: I know they know the other side of it, the translation, and I don’t want to hear it. Yeah. But that’s the way it is. Sometimes they all they just laugh. So when they do that, I stop singing. So I know they know what the meaning is about. See? That’s Hawaiian music. Now you don’t see a lot of the elderly people around to tell you that, see, but I love to listen, I love to talk with the elderly people. I like too when they say, “Come here”, and they have a piece of paper. “You sing this song, because my papa would always sing this song to my mama”. See? She say, “Sing this”. So now, I gotta trace it, because I have all this research material and books that I kept before, so I can trace it and get it down, get the lyrics, and I know what it is, because she told me. And I wish that there were more like that. This is something personal with families.

 

Alongside her husband Eddie, Myrna Kamae has produced award winning albums of traditional Hawaiian music featuring the Sons of Hawaii, and ten cultural documentaries for their Hawaiian Legacy series. A native of Mapleton, Utah, Myrna Harmer was in Hawaii in 1965 to help a friend open a new restaurant on Maui. Eddie, coincidentally, was in town visiting his mother in the hospital, and he was invited to a party at a friend’s beach house. The gathering included Myrna, who was captivated by Eddie’s music.

 

EDDIE: Well, Myrna just stared at me.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

She liked you, huh? [CHUCKLE]

 

MYRNA: Well, I didn’t move for two hours. I’d never really heard authentic Hawaiian music.

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: And here is Eddie, with his little Martin ukulele, and playing with Raymond Kane, that beautiful slack key guitar. And I just walked up to the door, and stood there. Because I did have a background of music; my family all were musical. But in Hawaii, I hadn’t ever really heard the authentic sound. And it was astonishing to me, to hear this sound. And with the waves in the background. It was just beautiful. And it was Christmas Day.

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: And then, that evening, Eddie and his cousin came up to where I was working. I had gone to Maui, to Lahaina, to help them take over a restaurant called Pineapple Hill. And so, the person who was the manager said to Eddie, “Why don’t you and your cousin come up, you know, to the restaurant”.

 

Had you met? Had you just listened to the music, or had you met?

 

MYRNA: Well—

 

EDDIE: Not yet.

 

MYRNA: Not yet.

 

Okay.

 

MYRNA: I think I fell in love with the music first.

 

EDDIE: [CHUCKLE]

 

But you noticed her watching.

 

EDDIE: Well, no, but I look at everybody.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, okay. So now, something happened this night. So how did it happen, and when did it happen?

 

MYRNA: Well, I remember that Eddie was standing back, in the back with he and his cousin, Hale Kaniho. And I wanted to go into town, and I had a trail bike that I usually would ride, but I thought, Gee, most of the times, things closed in Lahaina in those days really early. But I really wanted to go somewhere. So I just said, “I’m taking my trail bike, going into town; if anybody is going into town, I’ll take a ride with you, but you gotta bring me back”. And Eddie goes, “Oh, I’ll take you”. And so, I grabbed a bottle of Chianti wine out of the storeroom, and we went down, let his cousin off, and then we looked for a place. Anyway, they had a rock wall then, and Eddie was a lot different then. He had gabardine trousers, and—

 

EDDIE: [CHUCKLE]

 

MYRNA: —these silk shirts, and beautiful, beautiful clothes. And of course, I had, you know, cut-off Levi’s and a sweatshirt, and that kind of thing. Anyway, so I said, “I’m gonna jump over the wall; will you follow me?” And he said, “Yes”. And I thought, “Oh, yeah, sure”. [CHUCKLE] So we climbed over the wall, and we opened the bottle of wine. And we were looking out, and my goodness, this gorgeous Maui Moon—

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: —is coming down into the ocean.

 

EDDIE: Sunset. It was totally round, orange, just slowly going down. And we just looked at that. That’s the most interesting sunset I’ve ever seen.

 

MYRNA: Actually, it was the Moon going down.

 

EDDIE: Oh, whatever it is.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] Well, the short side of the story of how our families felt was, we decided that we wouldn’t tell anybody, and just go get married. And then, we would tell them after. And that worked quite well. Except, a few people were upset, ‘cause they wanted to have a party. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you were accepted, you were accepted.

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

And in fact, you got rave reviews from Mary Kawena Pukui, right?

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

Didn’t she say something really good when she met you?

 

EDDIE: Kawena told me, she said, “I want to meet your wife”. So when I brought Myrna, she and I discussed my subject what I was doing, and she noticed Myrna was down on the floor taking notes and writing, see? So then time to go, so Myrna bid her farewell first. So when I came around to bid her farewell, goodnight, and she told me, “Eddie, if you have any pilikia with your wife, you’re wrong”.

 

[CHUCKLE] You’re wrong. [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: I go, “Oh, no”.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: Yeah, now I know she knows, see?

 

What’s the connection between you two? How do you make it work?

 

EDDIE: Well, Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you”. So when I got into every project, whether it’s filmmaking, songs, whatever it is, she was always there to handle the situation, so I didn’t have to worry about the work, the paperwork and all of that things, the business side. She handle that, so I don’t have to worry.

 

And that was a role you wanted?

 

MYRNA: Well, I played that role, but I also got to do some of the other things that were fun. To go out on shoots, to write songs with Eddie. So, it was a lot of fun too. And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.

 

In 1970, Kawena Pukui encouraged Eddie and Myrna Kamae to visit the Big Island, to find the songwriter of Waipio Valley, Sam Lia Kalaiaina. He later became the subject of their first documentary film. One of the last Hawaiian poets to compose using flower images to represent hidden meanings in his songs, Sam Lia was already eighty-nine years old, and one of the few living cultural practitioners who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

EDDIE: And when I went up to the house, here was Sam Lia sitting down. It just seemed like he was waiting for me. I said, “My father is in Waipio too”. See? And then he told me many stories. And one of the most interesting story I heard, when he said, “I was playing music with the boys”. See? And I said, “What?” “I was playing music with the boys, then in come running, running in was Prince Kuhio. So we all about ready to stand up, but he sit down, so we couldn’t stand up. So I look at him, and he just smiled. So we played music, entertain him”. But he said, “I just write my thoughts down, what I saw, what he does, and what he’s gonna do. So I just label it down.” Yeah. So then … and then he tell me, “Here, you sing this”. So he had wrote a song for Prince Kuhio.

 

MYRNA: He did say to Eddie that he had been waiting for him.

 

EDDIE: Yes. Yes.

 

Did he mean, waiting for the right person to share with?

 

EDDIE: There’s no more like him. He’s so generous. If it’s your birthday, he writes you a song. Those days, money is just not the thing. It was what you give. [SINGING]

 

Luther Makekau was one of the most colorful and cantankerous characters profiled by the Kamaes. Luther was a chanter and singer, poet and philosopher. He was already into his ninth decade, when the Kamaes went in search of his story.

 

EDDIE: Here was a man, intelligent, but all he wants to do is just drink and have a ball. And Luther said, “I met a man in a bar”. I said, “And what it was like?” He says, “Well, we’re drinking. See? So, I’m drinking, he drinking. So then I told him I own acres and acres of land here on the Big Island.

 

MYRNA: Is that Luther told the guy?

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: Oh; okay.

 

EDDIE: See, what he wanted to do was drink on the guy all day, so he gotta impress him. So he goes, “Let’s go to my lawyer’s office”. And he walks, and the girls tell him, “He’s in”. So he goes over there, pound the door, and he works this thing out with the lawyer, see? He pound the door, he say, “Is my papers ready?” So the lawyer says, “Luther, it’ll be ready in one week”. Was the lawyer told me this story. He said, “Now I know what he going do, he’s going beg and drink on the guy all day”. And that’s what he did. He impressed the guy that he owns acres and acres of lands, now he going back and drink on the guy. One story the daughter told me. She said, “We went to his anniversary party”. You know, Luther’s. Top floor of the hotel there. And all of a sudden, the emcee says, “Will please Luther Makekau’s children please stand”. She said, “Eddie, I didn’t know I had thirty-nine half brothers and half sisters”. But that was Luther, see?

 

Different women, obviously.

 

EDDIE: Yeah; they all chased after him, see? That’s the way he is. He doesn’t bother, as long he got his bottle of booze, that’s what he loves, see. Yeah.

 

And he was a musician too, right?

 

EDDIE: Oh, he sings. Yeah, play. He sang falsetto with Sam Lia.

 

He was just an all-around character, wasn’t he?

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes. The old-timers by the theater, they tell me, “You know, Eddie, you know that guy, he tell us, Okay, you see that house over there? I want you guys to go over there, ‘cause I gonna move, so I want you guys move all the furnitures out.” [CHUCKLE] So while they were doing that, this other guy come by and says, “What are you fellows doing?” He said, “Well, Luther told me he’s moving, so we’re moving his things out”. The guy said, “This is my house”. And the guys that telling the story afterwards, they go, “That Luther, he almost got us into trouble”. [CHUCKLE] But who would do that? [CHUCKLE] He tell them move thing out, that’s not his house. Only Luther can think about that.

 

So it seems like you are always attracted to authenticity. You know, people being really who they are, in the place they are.

 

EDDIE: Yes. Well, that’s what I found about Luther. He had a way of doing things, and everything is his way he’s gonna do it. See? It’s amazing. Even the lawyers tell me that. “Eddie, that guy is always thinking.”

 

MYRNA: When Eddie first wanted to go out and do music, music research, we had saved twenty thousand dollars to put down on a new house. And he asked me if he could use that money to go out and do research, and I said yes. And it’s always been that way. You spend a lot of your own money. And then, Eddie has some really good friends that, when he got into the filmmaking business, they helped him be able to do it. Herb Cornell and his wife Jeannie came to one of our documentaries, and asked Jeanette Paulson, who’s head of the Hawaii International Film Festival those years, “You gotta help Myrna and Eddie, how can we do it?” A little bit later on, Herb, and Carol Fox, and Sam Cooke, and Kelvin Taketa, before he became the head of Hawaii Community Foundation, still at Nature Conservancy, they helped us do five films. And that was a major, major part of our work. And then, we actually formed a nonprofit called the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation, and we have a board of directors. People who love Eddie’s music, who love the work, they love the authentic, cultural continuity that we try to establish in the work. You look at the people that helped us make the films, and that you have to have a really wonderful production crew, and we’ve had, most of them from the beginning, like Rodney Ohtani, and Dennis Mahaffay has been a consultant through the whole thing.

 

So you never bought that new house?

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] No. We’re still renting. [CHUCKLE]

 

Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s documentary titled “Those Who Came Before”, the musical journey of Eddie Kamae, honors Eddie’s teachers, Mary Kawena Pukui, Pilahi Paki, and Sam Lia, who inspired the Kamaes’ efforts to preserve Hawaii’s cultural heritage. The Kamaes, at the time of this taping in 2011, are hard at work in production on another documentary about the people of Kalaupapa called “Feeding the Soul”. Mahalo piha, Eddie and Myrna Kamae, for sharing your long story short, and thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

MYRNA: Eddie would take me to see Kawena Pukui. And the thing that she said to us that meant more than anything was, a lot of times along the way, you have some hard knocks. And when something specially hard happened, she would say, “You know, there’s always room in your heart for forgiveness.” And that’s helped a lot through the years, to be able to let things go, and to be able to continue on with the work.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Tom Moffatt

We recognize the passing of Tom Moffatt, a legend in local show business. He died on December 12, 2016 at the age of 85.

 

Above, you can find the first of two episodes featuring Moffatt on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, in which he shares his life story. Transcripts and audio podcast files for both episodes are available below, as well.

 

These two programs will be rebroadcast on Sunday, January 8 at 2:00 and 2:30 pm.

 

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Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox: Tom Moffatt

Once a showman, always a showman, right? Maybe not. As a kid growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Tom Moffatt wanted nothing to do with the big city, instead preferring the simple life on a farm. See how Hawaii’s hardest-working man in showbiz went from raising livestock to spinning platters, as he sits down with Leslie Wilcox on Long Story Short.

 

 

Part 1: The Making of a Showman

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 5, 2011

 

Tom Moffatt, The Making of a Showman Audio

 

Download: Tom Moffatt , The Making of a Showman Transcript

 


 

 

Part 2: A Life of Entertainment

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 19, 2011

 

Tom Moffatt, A Life of Entertainment Audio

 

Download: Tom Moffatt , A Life of Entertainment Transcript

 

 

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Transcript

Part 1: The Making of a Showman

 

Tom Moffatt in the morning.

 

Hear Elvis direct from his Army quarters in Germany. He’ll be interviewed on KPOI by Tom Moffatt.

 

From sunrise to sunset.

 

Modest new voice in music today.

 

Tom Moffatt.

 

He has a name that’s as well known locally as many of the acts that he’s presented to Hawaii, from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra, from Michael Jackson to Bruno Mars. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Mr. Tom Moffatt.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

If you grew up in the 60s, this is how you heard the latest and greatest music, a transistor radio. There were no music videos, no iTunes, it was just you and a disc jockey, the faceless voice spinning the hottest hits from artists like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. In Hawaii, the radio station leading the way in rock and roll music was KPOI, and KPOI’s most popular deejay was Uncle Tom Moffatt. Now, you would think that a man who has such a passion for rock and roll grew up in the big city, L.A., Chicago, New York. But not Tom Moffatt.

 

Where did you begin life?

 

In Detroit, Michigan.

 

Detroit, Michigan.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Well, what was it like?

 

Cold. [CHUCKLE] I didn’t like the city, and I had relatives who lived outside of Detroit, so in my eighth grade, my folks let me work for this cousin of ours who had a mink ranch in a little town called Waterloo, Michigan. So I spent my eighth grade in this little town, in a one-room schoolhouse.

 

How many kids?

 

Oh, it was from kindergarten to eighth grade. [CHUCKLE] It was full.

 

Now, what didn’t you like about the city?

 

I don’t know; I didn’t like the congestion. I liked the country. I just liked the country. I liked the feeling of being outdoors, and just that nice feeling of [INHALES] inhaling and [CHUCKLE].

 

What did you do at the mink ranch?

 

Fed the mink, cleaned up after ‘em.

 

And enjoyed it?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and I had a pet pig, Herman. And we fed the mink horse meat and cereal. And there was always some of that left over, so I fed the pigs what was left over. And the pig became very healthy. He was pretty young, he weighed three hundred fifteen pounds when I took him to the county fair. And he won first place.

 

Wow.

 

So then, we took him to the state fair, which was at Michigan State University. On the very same football field where they play football now, I showed my pig. He didn’t win, but. [CHUCKLE]

 

And so, did you go K through 12?

 

No, when I—

 

You started in the eighth grade?

 

—graduated, then I returned to Detroit to go to school. And again, I wasn’t too happy. I got a job washing dishes in a restaurant called Curly’s. And the people who owned it had a farm about forty miles outside of Detroit. And they took me out there one day, and I fell in love with it. And so they needed somebody to work on the farm, so I talked to my folks, and they let me go into high school working on the farm.

 

So you’d been away from eighth grade, and then went you went away again in high school.

 

Yeah. I spent one year at Detroit in high school there. I just wasn’t happy. So I went tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade and ended up at South Lyon High School.

 

And graduated from there?

 

Yes, I did.

 

And then, what?

 

Well, I played football and basketball there, and I got a scholarship in my senior year to play football for a very famous coach, who wasn’t a famous coach at the time. But his first coaching job, he’d graduated from the University of Michigan. And I got this scholarship offer.

 

What position did you play?

 

I played tackle. [CHUCKLE] I was a farm boy. [CHUCKLE] So I remember going to Bowling Green, Ohio and seeing his team play, and sitting on the bench with he and the players. And I really was excited about it. I have the correspondence from him, not my letters, where I kept writing and asking, If I get hurt in football, will my scholarship still be in effect? I couldn’t get a definite answer. So I decided to go to work for a while in a factory and earn enough money to go to college. By the way, the coach is George Allen.

 

George—I was gonna ask you.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow.

 

Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Hall of Fame. [CHUCKLE]

 

And did you want to play for him? I mean, did he—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Did he evoke that leadership—

 

Oh, yeah; yeah. I liked him. But I was just—, what happens if I get hurt, and I don’t have a scholarship, and I don’t have any money? And I didn’t want to go to my folks for money, so I worked in a Dodge plant, and the Michigan Seamless Tube Company in my hometown of South Lyon. So I spent a year working there to save enough money to go to college.

 

It’s said that Hollywood actress Lana Turner was discovered at a drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. In Tom Moffatt’s life, the corner drugstore would provide that little catalyst which would take him away from the Dodge plant, and send him to a place he would come to call home.

 

One day, I’m in the corner drugstore in South Lyon, on my way to the tube company to work, and it was a steel mill. And I found this little book about colleges in the United States. The last page was University of Puerto Rico, and University of Hawaii. So I wanted to travel and go to school, and I got interested in University of Hawaii, and that’s how I ended up in Honolulu.

 

When you got here, was it what you expected?

 

Yeah; it was. It was more than I expected. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I could just feel the love of people and just the feeling of Hawaii when I got here.

 

So you didn’t have trouble breaking into local culture, or—

 

No, I kinda [CHUCKLE] fell into it. [CHUCKLE]

 

And knew you were gonna stay?

 

Well, I didn’t know. I didn’t know at the time if I knew I was gonna make this my home. But after I spent some time here this was it. So I went to school, and wanted to be an attorney.

 

Where did you live when you first got to the island?

 

Manoa Valley. Not far from here. [CHUCKLE] Not far from your studio.

 

Do you remember the street?

 

Yeah; Hillside Avenue.

 

Beautiful place to live.

 

Yeah, it was.

 

And you know, UH went fine for you? What were you majoring in?

 

Law; I wanted to be a lawyer. And in my first year, I had a speech teacher who said, You have a nice voice, you should get in the radio guild.

 

Now, was that the first time you’d been told you have a nice voice?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

I’m amazed.

 

Well, in a farming town, they don’t [CHUCKLE]—

 

They don’t care how deep your voice is.

 

But I’d never been in a speech class before, either. So I joined the radio guild, and got interested in being a radio announcer. So the end of my first year, I auditioned for KGU, and didn’t make it as a junior announcer. So I went to work at Tripler Hospital, mopping floors. I mopped every stairway in Tripler Hospital.

 

[CHUCKLE] Why do you think you didn’t get the job as a freshman?

 

Well, it was pretty competitive. There were only, like, just a handful of radio stations there. KGU, KULA, KGMB; that was about it. And a couple of language stations.

 

So good experience, but off you went to mop the floors.

 

Yeah, so I went back to school. And I’d go home every night and read the newspaper aloud, and talk, and read stories. Nobody was around, I’d just read every night aloud. So anyway, come the following June, I went back to KGU and got a job. I really got into it. I became a staff announcer at KGU. This was before disc jockeys really.

 

Were you always reading, or did you make up what you were saying?

 

I would do a little bit of news. And you come in between network programs and get a station break, and maybe a thirty-second commercial. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you’re operating the equipment as you’re speaking too?

 

Yeah. It was on the third floor of the Advertiser Building. And the tower was on top of the building that was the antenna for the radio station. I did just about everything. We recreated baseball games. Joe “Rack ‘Em Up” Rose, and Carlos Rivas, and Frank Lenny were also in the same game. But I was Joe’s board operator. He’d be in the other room, and he’d get teletype reports of what was happening with the baseball game, New York Yankees in Boston, or whatever, and he’d recreate these games. And I had three turntables or four turntables. One was just a regular crowd, another was excited crowd.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

One was boos, and the other was a 7-Up vendor. Get your 7-Up.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

‘Cause that was one of the sponsors. So you’d hear this guy in the stands selling 7-Up. [CHUCKLE]

 

And who was making the crack of the bat?

 

Joe would do that.

 

And he would do that live?

 

He had one of those pieces of wood that drummers use sometimes. And he’d hit that with a pencil. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. Those were the days when we didn’t get those games piped in.

 

Oh, no. They were all delayed, and it was just recreated. The only way you could get it here was shortwave, and that was kind of expensive, I guess, or it wasn’t that clear. So they all recreated these games. [CHUCKLE]

 

And nowadays, people are used to consolidated radio stations with the same voice, recorded on channels throughout the nation. But in those days, it was all one of a kind and local.

 

It was quite glamorous, too. I remember being nervous the first time the microphone opened, and I had to say, This is KGU in Honolulu [CHUCKLE], high atop the Advertiser Building. Things like that.

 

Did you attract fans?

 

Not then. A little bit, maybe. People were interested, enamored with radio announcers, even then, although we didn’t say that much sometimes. [CHUCKLE]

 

News, sports recreations, a little bit of music. That was radio back in the 50s. Tom Moffatt was just beginning to see how the power of radio could influence the tiny community that was Hawaii.

 

Now, at KGU, I fell in love with being a commercial announcer. So when school started in the fall, I decided I was learning more at KGU than I was at the University of Hawaii, so I stayed on as a radio announcer. And I remember coming home, and remember meeting Ella Fitzgerald at KGU. And we had some tickets for her concert that night at McKinley High School auditorium. And I went home to change. And in the letterbox was a draft notice. You will report to … and so that was the end of my radio career at KGU. So I remember learning it that night, but I went to the concert and saw Ella Fitzgerald at McKinley High School. [CHUCKLE]

 

Did she pack it?

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

McKinley High School?

 

M-hm. And many years later, I would present her in concert. [CHUCKLE]

 

So where did you go to report for the draft? Where did you serve?

 

I reported here, and I reported to Schofield for sixteen weeks of basic training. This was during the Korean War, and we were all being shipped off to Korea. So just when we concluded our basic training, this tough old sergeant called me in and said, Look, he said, you don’t want to go off to this war. [CHUCKLE]   He just kinda said, Hey, you got a talent, and they need a radio announcer at Armed Forces Radio at Tripler Hospital. I’ll lend you my car. He gave me the keys, and I drove to Tripler Hospital. And since I’d had some training in commercial radio, they grabbed me up right away. So I spent the next two years defending my country at Tripler Hospital. [CHUCKLE]

 

What were you voicing?

 

They ran pretty much the same things we ran at KGU. The big transcriptions, the Jack Benny Show, the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show, Suspense, Dragnet, Escape, all these shows. They were like half-hour shows. And you put a big fifteen-minute disc on, and go from that to the next one. Then come in between, and give a station break.

 

And that went only to the military population?

 

Yes, in Tripler Hospital. They called it the Bedside Network.

 

Only in Tripler?

 

Yeah.

 

And that was your draft service?

 

Uh-huh, that was it.

 

The place where you’d been mopping floors previously.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. And did you do—

 

That was fun.

 

Did you do that throughout your time in the service?

 

Yes, I stayed there for the rest of my Army career. And then I went back to KGU. And I started at KIKI also, so I was working at three radio stations, really. I’d do my, you know, Army duty at Tripler and worked my eight hours, and then I’d work in the other stations. So I began my disc jockey career, really, at KIKI. It was kind of fun. [CHUCKLE]

 

Did you ever hook up with any of the guys you trained with at Schofield?

 

Yes. Unfortunately, I had a few days off before I had to report to Tripler Hospital. And when I did report, one of the guys was coming down on a gurney. He’d gone to Korea and got shot, and returned to the hospital already. And quite a few of them came back injured, to Tripler Hospital. At the time, a lot of the entertainers who came to Hawaii on vacation, Jack Benny and George Burns came up one time, and I interviewed them on the radio, and then they toured the different areas of Tripler Hospital, visiting with patients. Another time, Louis Armstrong came up and performed at the Post Theater. So I had the pleasure of introducing him on stage. And one of my favorite stories, I’m on stage, kinda nervous, because this is Louis Armstrong. And the place is packed, and the band is on stage and where’s Mr. Armstrong? I’m looking around, and so I went out in the parking lot. There he is. The parking lot is deserted, ‘cause everybody’s inside. And he’s with his signature handkerchief and trumpet … rehearsing, blowing his horn. Anyway, the show got underway. It was great. [CHUCKLE] A special moment, seeing him out there he had this white handkerchief that he always used, playing the trumpet. And there he was, out in the parking lot, tuning up.

 

Excuse me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

You’re on.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, a career was born. Tom Moffatt was spinning stacks of wax, and like any good disc jockey, he was taking the musical temperature of his local listeners, giving them what they wanted. And what they wanted was a style of music that would revolutionize radio, and give Tom his identity.

 

So I started this jazz show on KIKI. But I would play other things too, like you know, Nat Cole, and things like that, and Frank Sinatra. All of a sudden, I started listening to this music, and getting requests for a guy with a funny name. Elvis Presley. And I started playing his music. And that’s where it exploded. All of a sudden, every kid on the island was listening, and I was the only one playing in the islands, really, I was the only one playing rock and roll. So yeah, I used to get like fifty-some letters a day [CHUCKLE] requesting. And I started doing a show from a drive-in, where Ward Warehouse is now, right by the corner of Ward and Ala Moana Boulevard. Right across from Fisherman’s Wharf.

 

It was a drive-in restaurant, not drive-in movie, right?

 

No, it was a drive-in restaurant called the White Top Drive-In. It became kind of the social center of Honolulu, and I was there every night from nine o’clock ‘til midnight, I think, or one o’clock.

 

Could people see you doing the show?

 

Oh, yeah. There was a fellow had a show called The Fishbowl Show. His name was Don Chamberlain. Then he left town, and this empty thing was sitting there, and they could move it around. So I turned it into Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A listener once wrote and said, Uncle Tom, or something like that. I got this moniker, Uncle Tom, and they started addressing letters to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. So I called the show Uncle Tom’s Cabin. So that’s what I called this former Fishbowl.

 

Then you got to perform with more than your voice. You had audiences.

 

Oh, yeah; yeah. And they would come, and the carhops would bring dedications from different cars.

 

And you were the first to play rock and roll music on radio in Hawaii?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

It was fun. [CHUCKLE] It was exciting.

 

That must have just swept, I mean, so pretty soon, you were doing a rock and roll show?

 

Oh, yeah. I was into it. The jazz was forgotten. [CHUCKLE] But I still hung out with the musicians, and we used to go to jam sessions. And a good friend of ours was Joe Castro, great piano player. And his girlfriend was Doris Duke. So a couple of times, we went up to Doris Duke’s home, and we’d jam all night. And I was like still the disc jockey buddy of these guys, and so we’d hang out and go to places like that. One night, we jammed all night, and she cooked breakfast for us the next morning. So we could boast that breakfast was cooked for us by Doris Duke. [CHUCKLE]

 

When you listen to the radio today, you’ll find that most stations change their format on a regular basis. They’re always searching for that sound, or personality that’s going to drive an audience to their wavelength. With rock and roll music in the 60s, there was an opportunity to grab hold of the music, the artists, the disc jockeys, and dominate the local airwaves. All it took was a visionary.

 

I was at KIKI, and Henry J. Kaiser, a great visionary, built the Hawaiian Village Hotel. And he wanted to have a radio station, I guess, and he saw what was happening with radio and felt he could do better. And so he built a radio station on the top floor of the Hawaiian Village Hotel. And he got J. Aku Head Pupule to be the manager, and do his morning show. Well, Aku hated rock. So, Mr. Kaiser felt that this young music should be played on his radio station, so he himself called some principals of schools to see who the kids were listening to. Well, of course, I won, ‘cause I was the only one playing rock and roll. So I got hired by Henry J. Kaiser to do—

 

Did he call you himself?

 

It went through Ron Jacobs, who was working for him as a good music disc jockey with Aku. And Ron called me and said, Mr. Kaiser wants to hire you. So that’s how it came together, and I met Mr. Kaiser, and it was very exciting. [CHUCKLE]

 

And even though he didn’t like the kind of music you’d be playing, he knew—

 

Mr. Kaiser, he was pretty open. It was Aku.

 

And—

 

Even to when he died, up to the—Aku was like one of the top disc jockeys in the world. He was, at one time, the highest paid disc jockey performing in Honolulu, and the whole world. He even boasted, just before he died, that he never played a Beatles record. [CHUCKLE]

 

And Mr. Kaiser didn’t say, Aku, you work for me, you’re gonna play rock and roll?

 

No, he didn’t force Aku to play rock and roll. But he said, You should have a young guy playing young music at night. So Aku went along with it.

 

So you had a definite franchise there.

 

Oh, yeah. And so, Ron was in the afternoon, and he started playing rock and roll. And then I was doing nine to midnight. And I’d do a mid-morning show also. So I was doing nine to noon, and nine to midnight.

 

So a pattern emerges. You work a lot. I mean, you worked multiple shifts.

 

Yeah. So that was my pattern, I worked two shifts. And Ron would be in the afternoon, and he was the bad guy, I was the good guy.

 

How did that play out?

 

It played out great. The roller derby was very big here in the 50s.

 

Oh, I remember. [CHUCKLE]

 

So we talked about doing a grudge match with Jacobs the bad guy, and myself the good guy. So we picked a night. It was slow at the Civic Auditorium, where the average crowd was twelve hundred people. So we worked a deal out with Mr. Ralph Yempuku, who ran the Civic, that we would get a piece of every ticket over twelve hundred. Well, we started talking this thing up, and that night, thirty-six hundred people showed up. It was packed. [CHUCKLE]

 

And there’s a hat story?

 

Yeah. This was in 1956, for the premier of “Love Me Tender” at the Waikiki Theater. Well, we set it up so I would have a teen premier on a Saturday afternoon, before it opened for the general public, just for kids. It was a Saturday morning, really, at the Waikiki Theater. And I got the hat, the actual hat that Elvis wore in “Love Me Tender”. But the kids had never seen Elvis on the screen before. And so, we had this contest. I got fifty-three thousand letters … trying to win the hat.

 

Fifty-three thousand.

 

Yeah. It was wild. It was the first time I ever heard girls scream in a theater. At a movie. That was at the Waikiki Theater.

 

So that was the beginning of Elvis in Hawaii.

 

I think so.

 

Just on screen.

 

Yeah.

 

And then …

 

Well, what happened, I think, was that the following year, Elvis had an open time period, and I think Colonel Parker remembered this contest and all the fan mail that kids wrote from Hawaii. I would give Elvis’ address out, and talk about Elvis, and play his records. And I think Colonel Parker remembered that. And so to fill that one date that they needed, they decided to come to Hawaii. And that’s why Elvis came to Hawaii in November of 1957.

 

What was that like?

 

Oh, that was something.

 

Was that one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had?

 

Yes; in music. And just about one of the most memorable experiences, just introducing Elvis on stage, and watch what happened. And watch him on stage, with really no visual support that performers have today. They moved the boxing ring that they used at the old stadium, and that was his stage.

 

This is the old Honolulu Stadium?

 

Yes,. The one where King and Isenberg, there’s Stadium Park there now. But I introduced him on his first concert. And here’s the stage, it’s a boxing ring. They’d taken the poles off, but they still had the overhead lights. That was his lighting. [CHUCKLE] The overhead lights, and that was it. And just his magnetism held that audience. Of course, he’s a great performer, great singer.

 

Who was backing him up?

 

His regular guys. The Nashville guys that recorded with him, they came here and backed him up.

 

What did you say in introducing him?

 

Oh, I don’t know, something. The man, you’ve come here to see him. And you could just feel the excitement. And I went to Colonel Parker. He said, Go up and introduce him. I said, Well, where is Elvis? He said, Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, just go up and introduce Elvis. Oh, there was a limousine parked over by the dressing room, not the dressing room, the dugout.

 

So you hadn’t met him at the time you were introducing him?

 

Yes, I had. I’ll tell you that story. [CHUCKLE] That’s another one. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I introduced him. Elvis Presley. The place went crazy. It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah. And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system. But he held that audience. And the most unforgettable moment that I’ve ever experienced with a performer is watching him do his encore. He did “Hound Dog”. Rock and roll, yeah? And he came back. And he got down on his knees on the stage, and did a slow version of “You Ain’t Nothing”—real slow. And then he jumped off the stage on his knees, and down on the ground, doing “Hound Dog”, slow. It was something. [CHUCKLE]

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I, Ron figured this one out. Do something different. And we’d met the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works. And Don Tyler was of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had this convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top down, and got a fellow that looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned. I’m on the radio. From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio, playing nothing but Elvis records. And I did this all morning, into the afternoon. So I kinda planned it. We understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua. So people would be out on the streets waiting, looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming, and we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio. By then, I had played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back. And we get the message from our news guy that, Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Tan-da, tan-da.

 

Oh. And we looked at each other; we wanted to escape. So we went downstairs, and there’s guards at the elevator. We went down one floor. And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite. Colonel said, We didn’t know what to expect. Colonel said, Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did. Oh, my gosh. Oh, and here’s Elvis. In walked Elvis. And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis. [CHUCKLE]

 

And he’d heard all about it?

 

I don’t know how much Elvis had heard about it, but Colonel said, These boys did a nice promotion today, and I’ve asked them to introduce you tomorrow at the stadium. So Mr. Moffatt’s gonna introduce you in your first show, and Mr. Jacobs in the evening show. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. So you scored on that.

 

Oh, wow. That was a relief. [CHUCKLE] And since then, we became such good friends with the Colonel. And so subsequently, whenever Elvis came here, I was the first guy with the microphone to talk to him. And sometimes, the only one.

 

For a young man who grew up working on a farm in Michigan, these were heady times. Tom Moffatt was a popular disc jockey on a radio station that was dominating the airwaves. He was living in Paradise, surrounded by teenagers who hungered for the culture and the music of rock and roll. The next time we talk with Tom Moffatt, we’ll see how he and the Poi Boys of KPOI Radio grabbed the local audience by giving them everything they wanted, and how Tom made a career out of feeding that hunger with more than just the sound coming out of a transistor radio. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

You had a pretty good voice too, as far as singing.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Tell us about making a record yourself.

 

This local record company owner, Bob Bertram, who went on to record Robin Luke’s “Susie Darlin’”, which became the first top ten rock and roll hit to make it outside of Hawaii all over the country, he came to me and said, Look, these guys can make records, why don’t you? So we picked “Beyond the Reef”, which was the Alfred Apaka hit song, which was very popular back in the 50s. And Mr. Bertram said, Look, you know, to push this record, you’ve gotta sing it when you emcee shows. Now, Alfred Apaka was the singing star of Henry J. Kaiser’s Tapa Room at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. So I was all set to sing it that night, I’d rehearsed it that afternoon with the band. So I came out, the emcee of the show, and I looked down at the front row, there’s Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser, and Alfred Apaka, sitting in the front row. I didn’t sing it that night. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

Part 2: A Life of Entertainment

 

If Michael calls, I just took the update out and everything. Can you come up real fast? I just want the one that says, March 18th. Only rock and roll. I’ll copy you on what I send him, okay? Thanks.

 

His life is on the walls and shelves of his office, celebrities who are close friends, acts he’s presented to Hawaii, awards and memorabilia of a life immersed in entertainment. Coming up on Long Story Short, disc jockey, promoter, entertainer, Tom Moffatt.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha. I’m Leslie Wilcox. His career has spanned Elvis Presley in the 50s, the Hawaiian music renaissance feature Cecilio & Kapono, Kalapana, and Country Comfort in the 70s, all the way to Bruno Mars today. But in the 60s, Tom Moffatt was one of the Poi Boys, a team of disc jockeys taking Hawaii by storm. They pulled off ridiculous, just wacky promotional stunts, and played the latest rock and roll hits from the continent.

 

The transgression went from KIKI to Mr. Kaiser at KHVH, and then to KPOA, where I hosted the Big 30 Review, which was a major radio show at the time. And Ron went with me there, and then we started KPOI. And that was when we really had a free hand in radio, and we became the first rock and roll radio station to broadcast twenty-four hours a day, with the Poi Boys.

 

How many Poi Boys were there?

 

Oh, five or six. And it rotated. But there was Ron Jacobs, and myself, and Tom Rounds and Don Tyler was a Poi Boy, and Sam Sanford was a Poi Boy, Bob the Beard Lowrie.

 

Jack Kellner was, as well.

 

Jack Kellner was, Dave—

 

Don Robbs.

 

—Donnelly was, Don Robbs. Oh, yeah; yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Those were great days of radio, when you didn’t have corporate saying, You have to sound like the other stations.

 

No, we could do whatever we wanted. On the spur of the moment, we’d do crazy things. People would think they were planned, but they weren’t.

 

What are some of the things you did? What do you remember most fondly? What was the biggest stroke …

 

Well, the biggest—

 

—of genius?

 

—thing that we did—this was planned. But Tom Rounds would stay awake for a week at the Wigwam store on Dillingham Boulevard, right by where Meadow Gold is. And he stayed awake for a week. Another time that I did—[CHUCKLE] … they promised me a week in Las Vegas, so I would do this hang-a-thon from a car high above a used car lot on Nimitz Highway.

 

A hang-a-thon?

 

Yeah. So I would broadcast from a car … five or six stories up, in this car, for I don’t know how long. And this crane took me up. And we had a whole drama unfolding before it, but anyway, Jacobs was supposed to do it, and I came in on my white horse and rescued the event, and I will go up and stay when Jacobs chickened out. It was all planned. But I went up—this was not planned. I got up in this car, and I was looking for a week in Vegas, and signing meals. And while I was up there, I could pick meals, and they would send meals up to me from any restaurant in town. It was all set, and I was gonna do this hang-a-thon. Well, the State Safety Commissioner got involved, and threatened to pull the license on the crane company, unless they lowered the car. So I remember being up there, looking at all these mice running around, people, ‘cause I was way up there. [CHUCKLE] And all of a sudden, I’m coming down. That’s what happened. So I didn’t get the trip to Vegas. [CHUCKLE]

 

Aw.

 

That one didn’t work.

 

And your management really gave you carte blanche?

 

Oh, they did; yeah. Yeah. Sometimes, they didn’t quite understand it, but they went along with it.

 

And the audience was just glued for the next move.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Just waiting—

 

They never knew what—

 

—for something.

 

—was gonna happen. That was the charm about that radio station, is that people would tune in, and any time of the day or night, something bizarre could happen.

 

But the Poi Boys weren’t just hanging from cranes and staying awake for a week. They were the ears of Hawaii, always on the lookout for the latest hits from the continent, and bringing those sounds to the local airwaves.

 

I remember the waiting every weekend … was it once a year that you did the Song of the Year, and you did a countdown? And I always waited to find out what was the number one—

 

Oh, that was—

 

—song.

 

—Labor Day Weekend. We’d do a Marathon of Hits Countdown. And we had listeners starting in the summer sending in their votes. And we’d send something to some of the listeners and get them to send in their top five favorites. Then we’d tabulate them all, and play off the top three hundred hits of all time, starting Labor Day weekend, and ending up on Monday night. It was pretty wild. And people tuned in, talk about it, what’s gonna be number one.

 

Yeah, it’s sort of … I mean, with the internet and all the engagement, I mean, it was like that without the internet then. People were—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—back and forth, and talking, and—

 

Yeah.

 

—engaging all the time.

 

The phone was a great communicator for us. You could tell pretty much if a record was gonna happen. I answered the phone all the time. And if somebody would take the time to call for a record, you’d take another listen to it, or play it again, or …

 

And you’d decide—

 

It’s a great barometer.

 

—what to play, or the record companies told you what to—

 

No, no.

 

—play?

 

The records companies didn’t. They would bring us the records, but we had a music department, and usually Tom Rounds, Jacobs, and I would sit in, and we’d listen to the records, and see what was happening nationally with them. And if it wasn’t happening nationally, if it had a local sound, and we had a certain playlist that we played, but the jocks didn’t have to follow a certain list. And we had a whole spindle full of records that were older records that we had the choice of playing that we’d play at a certain time. But we had this whole current playlist that we could play. And sometimes, if a record was hot, I’d play the same record two or three times in a show. It was like that hot. And you could do that.

 

You had such a large audience.

 

Yes.

 

And then, you had influence over the music to be played. So—

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

 

Tremendous power.

 

A lot of records broke here, before they broke on the mainland.

 

Is that because you guys noticed that this is really resonating?

 

Records took note of Hawaii, because there was no outside influence into our marketplace. Like Los Angeles or any major market had smaller cities in their area that might influence record sales. But we had none here. We were it. There was nobody outside of our perimeter. [CHUCKLE]

 

So great lab for—

 

Yeah.

 

—for music.

 

Yeah, yeah. So the record companies watched what was happening with our radio station, and watched what we were playing.

 

How long did the Poi Boy era last?

 

Well, we started in 1959. And I left KPOI. I went from disc jockey to music director, to program director, to GM vice president. It kinda lasted all the way through, but the heyday was in the 60s, when the Moose, Dave Donnelly, and Kellner, and Jacobs, and Rounds, and all of us were together having fun and … those were the times.

 

Tom Moffatt’s love for music and entertainment soon opened other doors for the affable deejay with the magical voice. He began working with local promoters, producing live shows featuring some of the most popular acts of his time, including our own homegrown talent.

 

During the time that I was at KIKI, Mr. Ralph Yempuku and Earl Finch, who had promoted stadium shows, state fair, and things like that, called me into their office and said, Look, we believe this new music is gonna happen, and you seem to know it better than anyone. We’ll bring you in as a partner. And if the show makes money, you’ll make money; if the show doesn’t make money, it loses money, you won’t lose anything. So it was the perfect opportunity for me. So I started working with Mr. Finch and Mr. Yempuku, and we put on thirty-some different shows at the Civic Auditorium, from Paul Anka, to Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, you name it, anybody who was a young rock and roll singer, Eddie Cochran. Many of the people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came here for the Show of Stars.

 

What did you learn from the two older gentlemen?

 

Be conservative, be cautious, be careful, and learn how to sell your product. I learned that from them.

 

Be cautious with money, or with risk?

 

Yeah, with risk. Yeah. It’s very easy to get in over your head in that business, or this business.

 

You got to know many of the local entertainers, as well as these big national stars.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Who were some of the people that made a big impression on you when you were in radio, in those days?

 

Well, Alfred, of course, did. Sterling Mossman, at the Barefoot Bar, at Queen’s Surf. Let’s see. So, The Alii’s, Don Ho, of course. Don Ho came along … at the latter days of KPOI. Dick Jensen. We recorded Dick Jensen as Lance Curtis.

 

Oh, really?

 

We thought he should have more of a Hollywood sounding name. [CHUCKLE] So we recorded him. I think it was at the KPOI studios. And we recorded quite a few artists here, local artists, that we put out as forty-five records.

 

And that was sort of a natural outgrowth of what you were doing as part of your radio job.

 

Yeah; yeah. Yeah.

 

Or did you do it on the side? Was it part of the radio—

 

No, it was on the—

 

—job?

 

—side.

 

But it was because you knew the people, and you knew the biz.

 

Yeah. And we’d play the records at KPOI, and the bands would come and play for us at different promotions. It kind of went hand-in-hand. And we did this show, they’d sing at the Funny Farm over in the American Chinese Clubhouse every Friday night. And one summer, a restaurant had folded in Waikiki, and was available, and so we opened a teenaged nightclub called Fat City. It was the hottest thing of the summer. Just served soft drinks. There was always a line up right on Kalakaua, where the Hyatt is now. [CHUCKLE]

 

And that was just started by your gang?

 

Yeah; yeah. We started that. And we started a company called Arena Associates to promote shows at what would become the Blaisdell Arena, then the Honolulu International Center Arena. I remember we used seed money from the Funny Farm and Fat City. I remember this scrapbook came out on the Beatles. And I put a station logo on it, and offered it on the air for sale for, what, fifty—I forget what it was. And we sold those, and made a profit on that. And all that money, we put together to promote the first show at the Blaisdell Arena, the HIC Arena.

 

HIC.

 

Yeah. Honolulu International Center. And that was April 10, 1964. That was the first show. And we brought in ten acts out of a big show that was performing in San Francisco.

 

Do you remember who they were?

 

Paul Revere and the Raiders, Ray Peterson … Teddy Randazzo. Chuck Berry was supposed to come in, but he had a incident where he was on parole. And he was all set to come in, and then his parole officer wouldn’t let him out of the continental United States. So I called Teddy Randazzo in New York, who was in a recording session, and I said, Hey, we need some help, can you make it? So he dropped everything and came over, and took Chuck Berry’s place. Chuck Berry was huge, but Teddy was huge also. Jan and Dean, and people like that.

 

That was a big start.

 

Yeah, it was. It was a great show. And we sold tickets for next to nothing, and we did two shows in one day. I think tickets were ninety cents, for ten acts.

 

And for many decades since, Tom Moffatt has brought heavy hitters from the entertainment world to Hawaii, allowing us to enjoy the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Eagles, Michael and Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and Sir Elton John. If a big act was playing Hawaii, they were probably here because of Tom Moffatt Productions. But if you think that the life of a concert promoter is all glamour and celebrity, you’d be mistaken.

 

Throughout your career, you’ve been the good guy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You’re the one that doesn’t get judgments against him for promotion, and you have contract handshakes.

 

M-hm; yeah. I’ve done a lot of shows just by a handshake.

 

What is your life like the week before a big concert? What is it like to be in the office with you?

 

Well, it’s last minute changes in arrival times, and rehearsals, and sound checks and food demands.

 

Okay.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s something I’d love to hear about, food demands.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Is it true that some of these over the top requests are just kind of crazy?

 

They are. They are. It’s more expensive now. [CHUCKLE] The first time I brought the Rolling Stones in, we had a drinking fountain back stage. That was it. That was it. It just wasn’t thought of. The performers came in, and did their show, and left.

 

Now?

 

Well, now, it’s—whew. You’ve got breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And dressing rooms full of goodies, and …

 

And they’re very specific about vegan this, and certain brands, and—

 

Oh, yeah. And you get a vegetarian, and you got that whole thing going. They want fish in one day, chicken on another day, meat on another day. It’s all specified in the riders. And the riders are getting thicker and thicker. [CHUCKLE]

 

What else has changed about bringing acts in?

 

The technical has gotten, like, wow. [CHUCKLE] I refer to the Stones. The first time they came in, we used what they called stage lights that rolled on. This is from the old vaudeville days, and they were a bank of lights that you rolled on and off the stage. And we had overhead spotlights in the Blaisdell. Those were there. But that’s what the Rolling Stones used the first time, were these roll-on stage lights, and spotlights overhead.

 

How was Mick Jagger to work with?

 

Great; they were great. This was the last date of their US tour, and they came here, and they were looking forward to it. We put ‘em at the Kahala, and they were very happy and easy to work with. Unfortunately, they had in their rider where you had to hire fifty uniformed city policemen. And wherever they did this, even with the policemen, kids would mob the stage. Well, here, our young people respected authority, at least around the stage. They made noise, but they sat in their seats. And the Stones weren’t used to this. And they did a twenty-seven-minute show, because they didn’t know what to do between songs. Where normally, it would be two or three minutes of pandemonium with kids rushing the stage, it didn’t happen here. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s amazing. And that’s ended now. People do storm the stage.

 

Can you imagine a twenty-seven-minute concert now, with a major act? [CHUCKLE] But we didn’t get one complaint. And the reviewer in the Star Bulletin mentioned twenty-seven minutes. And I still have a tape of their show. I have a tape of the show, and I timed it; it’s twenty-seven minutes. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, did you have to rush up to conclude the show, not really ready for that?

 

No, no. No, I remember Mick Jagger saying, Wonderful time here, and this may be our last concert, ever. [CHUCKLE] Ever; and the drum roll goes [CHUCKLE] when he said that. [CHUCKLE] Oh, it was funny.

 

Speaking of drama.

 

Yeah, it was. It was hilarious. But not one complaint. The kids just screamed all the way through. The Rolling Stones were on stage, and that’s all they wanted.
If you were to ask Tom Moffatt to name the favorite chapter of his career, he might mention the musical renaissance of the 1970s. It was a time when local fans stood in long lines outside the Top of Da Shop—remember how small the room was when you finally got in there? Territorial Tavern, or even the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, the Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups. Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronny Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and the early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena. I remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town we put Dick Jensen on as the opening. Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson. This was before Michael Jackson. He could dance.

 

Didn’t you record Keola and Kapono Beamer in Honolulu City Lights?

 

Yes, I did. I had just left radio. I’d finally decided that I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take hiatus from radio. So I started my own record company. And in the door, walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording, and so I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it. And I said, Why don’t you guys go home and write, and let’s do a record together, an album. So I gave them some seed money to go out and write. And Keola called me and said, I think I’ve got a song. He was living up at Alewa Heights. I’ll never forget it. And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear this song, just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark, and the lights were coming on. And he played for me Honolulu City Lights. And I knew we had something. So that was my first recording endeavor, really, on my own. And we came out with Honolulu City Lights, got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

Oh, I don’t know, with Iz around. [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a—

 

Oh, yes, yes.

 

A really big seller.

 

But not that long ago, a few years back, I think it was the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best selling, just the best albums, Hawaii albums of all time. And number one was Honolulu City Lights. That was a thrill. It’s still my favorite. [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me too. Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing in the airport then, and they were always crying. And those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go to the gate with lei’s. Yeah.

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just lei’s, you brought bento’s and food, and everybody had luau’s. And that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—almost continuously. And if it wasn’t, somebody was asking that it be played. Yeah. So that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaii. That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes. Well, I’d done some singles and so forth. Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights. At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI. And she said, You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

—M’s Ranch House? Oh, The Sty.

 

No, this was at The Sty. It wasn’t Aina Haina, it was beyond Aina Haina, at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah. And I heard these guys, and I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Bninski [PHONETIC] had started. And I finished off the album, and we put it out together. Then after that, I left out on my own. But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums. I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Did you pretty much have your pick of people wanting to make records?

 

Yes. Yeah, there was a lot of talent around.

 

Those are some—

 

There was a lot of ‘em coming up.

 

—wonderful groups.

 

And The Alii’s, we recorded The Alii’s and presented them. And I opened the showroom at the Outrigger Hotel in 1968.

 

All of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises … to really be stable, and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money, you have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good a planning. Did you have that all along? Or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning. [CHUCKLE] Still learning. But I’ve got good accountants around me. Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No. We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and it turned out okay. Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of a gamble. The room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used. And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaii, and was looking for a place to work, and so we opened that showroom. And it’s been going ever since. After Tommy, then I kinda drifted off, but … and another time, when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty, which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel. The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel, that’s what we called it. I put the Beamers in there. That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening. So we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian. It was very successful.

 

With Tom Moffatt’s reputation and success, you might think that his son would be eager to learn the business.

 

You have one son.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Who’s not a promoter.

 

No. No, he’s a—

 

Because he saw the stress involved.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes, I think so.

 

What does he do?

 

He’s in landscaping in Hilo. He lives in Hilo. He likes the feeling of Hilo.

 

So he’s kinda like his dad, in liking the country?

 

Uh-huh. But when Dad comes over with a show, I put him to work. When he graduated, I promised to take—he’s a surfer, take him to Surfer’s Paradise in Australia. So while there, I took him to Sydney and met a good friend of mine, Gary Van Egmond, who was promoting a concert at the time, several of them with the same artist. I can’t mention the artist, because he’s a good friend of mine now, and he’s doing fantastic now. But at that particular time, he wasn’t selling tickets. And I went to see him, and introduced my son to him, and he was getting these calls from different box areas, and what the ticket sales were in different areas of Australia. He had a couple dates in New Zealand with the same artist. And his face was getting whiter and whiter, because they weren’t selling. And I think my son watched this, and decided this is not the business he wanted to be in. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. Watching you do it, it must have looked kinda easy.

 

Yeah; yeah. Didn’t see the stress sometimes you feel in an office when you’re getting box office reports.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or you know, the cost was too high in some way?

 

No, I’ve never felt that way. I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

Would you have done anything another way along the way?

 

Well, I think I was making big money in working in an automobile factory first, in Detroit, and if they hadn’t gone on strike, I might still be there. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I was making good money.

 

Well, later—

 

But then, I saw—

 

—Detroit was to be a music center, too.

 

Oh, yeah. When I was going to work in the Dodge factory at Hamtramck, I took the bus down Grand Boulevard, in Detroit, and went past, every day, coming and going, what would soon be the site of Motown. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. So it could have worked out, if you’d stayed. Except, you would have been a lot colder.

 

[CHUCKLE] But if they hadn’t gone on strike everybody was making great money, but they went on strike at Dodge, and I said, Wow, this isn’t the life for me.

 

Do you see yourself retiring one day?

 

I can’t see it, really. I enjoy what I do. I don’t feel like it’s going to work. I think if it gets to the point where I’m like, going to work, and having to do it, I may think about that. I love music, I love the people involved in it, and I just love to see a happy audience and a happy performer.

 

In Tom Moffatt’s career, spanning more than five decades, he’s been a part of our lives, first, as a radio deejay, then as a promoter. It’s likely that nearly everyone in Hawaii has either seen a Tom Moffatt production, or heard about the one that they missed. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

When the Hawaiian renaissance in music came around with groups like Olomana, Country Comfort, Kalapana, and of course, Cecilio & Kapono, I got involved with all of them. Especially Cecilio & Kapono at the beginning. I got a call from their manager, Bill Thompson, and they were rehearsing their firsts Columbia album in Colorado. They were skiing and rehearsing, and performing. So I flew over to see them, and they had some of the top sidemen from Hollywood doing the album with them. So I got all excited, and when they came back to Honolulu, I put them in a concert at the Waikiki Shell. We did, I think, about three to four thousand people. But when the album came out shortly thereafter, they kind of introduced songs from the album that night and sang them live, but when the album came out, wow, everything happened.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Will Henderson: Life Lessons

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 19, 2013

 

Life Lessons

 

In honor of the late Will Henderson, PBS Hawai‘i presents this in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in September 2013.

 

The former longtime President and CEO of Queen’s Medical Center talked about the importance of staying active. He also discussed the “very high” expectations he set for those he mentored — and how every one of them achieved those expectations.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Download: Will Henderson, Life Lessons transcript

 

Transcript

 

I swept in at a time when there was a big cultural change that had taken place here from Haole running everything to now all of a sudden it’s young, inexperienced Japanese, our 442nd heroes and the likes of that. And life changed totally in this community.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Will Henderson grew up in poverty and isolation on the plains of South Dakota and worked in the sawmills of Oregon to pay for college. Through hard work and education he bettered his circumstances and earned a Master’s Degree in hospital management, which was a brand – new field in the1950’s.

 

In Hawai‘i, the year 1959 was a milestone as we became the 50th state. With the Democratic Revolution of 1954, the leadership and status quo throughout the islands began to change. This was the backdrop as Will Henderson, a young hospital executive from the UCLA Medical Center, was recruited to save the struggling Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital. While Will came to Hawai‘i intending to make major changes to the hospital, it was the people of Hawai‘i who forever changed his life.

 

I think I can say this without even a second thought.  Everything I am and everything I’ve learned, I learned in Hawai‘i. Because it brought a whole new dimension to my life that I didn’t know anything about. Different cultures, different beliefs, different religions, different lifestyles that I had never seen or anything. I was somehow or another fortunate to get into a new career that was being developed in the United States and that was hospital management. And we had the opportunity of seeing things so differently than in Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i was magnificent, lovely place but fifteen to twenty years behind in healthcare, in every … every aspect. And the opportunity then of coming here … what a magnificent gift. What a magnificent challenge.

 

Will Henderson’s first challenge in Hawai‘i was getting the troubled Children’s Hospital out of bankruptcy. With strict financial controls and his new approach to hospital management, things began to turn around rather quickly.

 

It started with the medical staff. And I was saying to the medical staff – the President of the medical staff was a big strapping young guy in pediatrics and I said to him we’ve got to find a way to make this hospital whole again. And I said, medical staff is the key. If you don’t bring in patients, it doesn’t make any difference what you do, we cannot succeed. And so magnificent as he was – he was with Straub Clinic, he said we will back you up. We’ll work with you. And we started then. In nine months we recovered the hundred thousand dollars we owed the bank.

 

In 1961, Will Henderson became President and CEO of The Queen’s Hospital, a post that he would hold until his retirement in 1983.   Will set out to update Queen’s into the modern health care center that is today.

 

And so, a malihini was put in charge of a medical center founded with a mission to provide quality health services to improve the welfare and well – being of the Native Hawaiian people, and all the people of Hawai‘i. But it has a Native Hawaiian mission.

 

Yeah.

 

Started by royalty, Queen Emma —

 

We were — at a hundred and one years, we were a long way from your description. A long, long way from it. Mind you the healthcare system here in the hospitals — not saying the doctors, saying the — in the hospitals, twenty — twenty years behind time.

 

Mm.

 

There was nothing going on that every person knows today. There was not a single intensive care unit in this community when I came here. Everybody is treated in outpatient care now. I started that hel — outpatient care in this community in hospitals, never done. Well, it’s about 19 … 67, 68.

 

Are you saying that it was all or nothing, they either took you as a patient to stay over, or they didn’t treat you?

 

You went to a doctor’s office. That was the only place you got treated. Not in outpatient. Or you could have gone to the Queen Emma’s Clinics.

 

Mm.

 

But most patients were not going there. Those —

 

Did you have trauma —

 

— were free patients —

 

— centers? You know, you know the word trauma —

 

No trauma center.

 

Oh.

 

No. But we did have a — at Queen’s, an emergency department, but it was not a trauma center. It was a far cry from that.

 

So, did you …

 

[CLEARS THROAT]

 

— help bring it along to make up those twenty years of lag?

 

We changed it. We redirected from a hospital, and started the move toward a medical center.

 

Through Will Henderson’s leadership, The Queen’s Hospital was transformed into The Queen’s Medical Center in 1967. Will credits his success at Queen’s and in Hawai‘i to the multicultural friendships he made. Not only did his new friends acquaint him with the island lifestyle and the Pacific Asian cultures, they also accepted Will into their families. In turn, Will embraced and accepted their cultures as well as their families.

 

As you know a lot of people, who come to … who have had great success other places and come to Hawai‘i to take jobs – often it’s not their cup of tea. They don’t cut into the culture — they have a hard time fitting in, they … some feel unwelcome. This may not be true, I mean I’m not making a gross generalization, but this has been a pattern of sorts.

 

It is true. It is very true because I had a problem keeping executives here because their wife would be very unhappy, and they’d go back.

 

But what made it so easy for you?

 

I swept in at a time when there was a big cultural change that had taken place here from Haole running everything to now all of a sudden it’s young, inexperienced Japanese, our 442nd heroes and the likes of that. And life changed totally in this community whether most people realize it or not. But when you’re integrated into the total society, you see things much differently. And it’s with great pride that I became close friends with all of these people whether they are Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, whatever it might be … many, many close friends. And so I got here and a doctor by the name of doctor David Pang, he’s a pediatrician.

 

He delivered me.

 

Well then you, he did the right thing at the right time because he delivered me as well.

 

How so?

 

Thirty eight years old I didn’t know a single thing about getting along anyplace in Hawai‘i. He told me, he took me under his wing and he started counseling me about all kinds of circumstances and individual things to be aware of. Dr. David Pang was my friend ‘til the very day of his death and he always kept advising me and I would constantly thank him for doing this and he said, I didn’t do anything for you. And then now I got the Hawai‘i side I mean the Hawaiian side and I sorta got the Chinese side and my very first close friend was Dr. Clifford Kobayashi, pediatrician again that came in and he had four daughters, four little girls and I became a part of that family and today I’m still family with them. As a matter of fact, I just talked to mother yesterday. All of a sudden, I have a cadre of people taking care of me and showing me how to get along in this community and I still didn’t know I’m supposed to be working with haoles all the time. Now you can chuckle about that, but it’s a problem.

 

So that’s, and it really did boil down to a Caucasian triumvirate ya know a ruling party.

 

It was at that time. Absolutely everything was. But I had friends that came along and involved on the haole side as well. Couple of them being legislators and early on I met – I had a telephone call from a senator. And that senator later I met him. Became very good friends. I’m very fond of him and his wife — George Ariyoshi. George Ariyoshi was a wonderful friend to me, helped me in many ways. If nothing just being a friend in a Japanese controlling community now. And so as I just progressed through each of these groups. Think about to be a haole in this community at a time that it had changed from being run by haoles and now basically Japanese democratic party is in control of everything. So now I’m sitting pretty good eh …

 

Sounds like it.

 

I got the community, I’m acquainted with all the community and everything. But now when you take Queen’s, now Queen’s Medical Center, it’s almost one hundred percent haole board and many of the people, so finally I got a young Chinese lady on the board. And then there a couple more that we managed to bring onto the board. Now I have to say to you on my board, there was no prejudice. They … they were – I think between somewhere in the system, someone dealt out a hand of cards that said look okay you’re Chinese, you’re Japanese you’re this and you all meet together and work together.

 

Will Henderson retired after 22 years as the President and CEO of The Queen’s Medical Center. For many years in retirement he continued to serve on Boards and in community leadership positions. Over the years he has had an audience with world leaders such as the Crown Prince of Japan, the Queen of Thailand, and the King of Jordan. Will also spends his time passing on his wisdom to aspiring or successful business and community leaders.

 

You — you’re known for mentoring people. You’re generous with your time and your wisdom. You take time to listen, and you make some very strategic comments. What kind of advice are you giving out these days? Can you give us an example?

 

[CLEARS THROAT] First, let me say that I have fifty – one protégés. Two of them became multi multimillionaires. I made it a specific effort to bring Japanese women into the healthcare field and — and to provide opportunity for them. And so at this time, I have an array of — I have about ten of my protégés that I’m still in very close touch with, one in Connecticut, just retired, he was a hospital executive. Oh … one of the local boys that I’m very proud of is Gary Kajiwara at —

 

President and CEO of Kuakini Medical Center. Who says you arranged for a special internship for him, which really set the stage for what he does now.

 

Yes.

 

And has done for decades.

 

Absolutely.

 

Yeah.

 

Absolutely. And he was at Queen’s Medical Center; he was a capable young man. And so I’m proud of him today. Quite proud of him. I think he’s my only remaining protégé in the healthcare field, if I’m not mistaken.

 

Well, what do you tell people? I mean, how do you give them new tools to succeed?

 

Leslie, I would be misleading you if I went into a big story about how I do and what I do. One thing. I come up, I pat you on the back, and I tell you, You know what, you’re doing a great job.

 

Even if you’re not? [CHUCKLE]

 

Even if you’re not. So really, you gotta start with — most … most people need someone to stand beside them. And I’m a great one to walk up and put my arm around you and say, You know what, you’re really looking good today, you’re looking great. And women, the same way and each of those people are — are so appreciative that — that I think it doesn’t make any difference how much you think you have grown up in family, et cetera. Every person needs a pat on the back that simply says that you’re doing a good job. Secondly, and yet there is another one; I set very high expectations for them. Very high. Beyond — they will say, I can’t do that, I’m not capable of all of that. And every one of those protégés achieved that expectation.

 

You didn’t get a lot of pats on the back when you were a kid. There wasn’t a lot of affection at all in your family.

 

No.

 

Too much hard work.

 

Or among any of the families. They — we all grew up without —

 

Yeah.

 

— without praise and —

 

So, you know what it’s like —

 

Yeah.

 

— to have none.

 

Yeah. That’s why it’s so important to me.

 

M-hm.

 

That, whether this — this crew here, I pay attention to what they do, I watch them. Whomever they may be, I watch them. I selected my executives that way in my training programs. I created a whole training program that was called Vertical Horizontal Participative Management, and taught my people what that meant. Most people do not know what that means. And taught them what that meant. And those people, so many of them have gone on to be very, very successful, not only in Hawai‘i, but onto the mainland, and et cetera. It was always to be there for them. If I would say, I’ll be your mentor, I’m your mentor, and I am there twenty – four hours a day for you.

 

And so, they can come to you with any little problem, something they might consider big, but you don’t.

 

M – hm.

 

But you’ll help them with it?

 

Always listen; always listen. And I try never — depending. Try never to tell; them what you should do. Say, you know, somethi — have you thought about this? Have you done any long – range thinking?

 

And what do you get out of mentoring people?

 

Ah; the greatest excitement, satisfaction. I do it for free; I do it for free. Not only I would do it for free, but I do it for free.

 

Will Henderson still keeps a sharp eye on the changing social – economic climate of Hawai‘i and he still contributes advice when younger people seek it.

 

So it’s a magnificent time of life, and a trying time of life.

 

It’s a trying time of life?

 

Yes, it is.

 

How so?

 

Well, think about it. We’re all in the recession again. Many, many people have lost their homes. Many, many people have migrated from Hawai‘i to the mainland and to other places. Many of our Hawai‘i graduates cannot get jobs. In the last two weeks, I’ve talked to at least ten. I tell them to take any kind of a job you can get; doesn’t matter what it is. Work at night, and then still try to do their job hunting in the daytime and —

 

Mm.

 

And I’ve tried to also to explain to them, This is the one time in your life you’re going to learn to give back. And that is, you go to someone who has a company, you really want to work in their company, and do as I did. I worked for free. You tell them, I’ll work for a year for free if you’ll give me an opportunity for a job in your company, I’m the first one that comes along. They won’t know what to think with a — coming from a young graduate, that you are saying, I will work for free. Because, you see, our young graduates, they’ll work for free for years. They walked out and got a job any time, any place.

 

M – hm.

 

And more power to them. But that is a downside that’s now in our society, and we’re back, this is the repeat, life repeats itself, history repeats itself.

 

M – hm.

 

So, what I grew up in, these young people are going to have more. But their parents have lost their home, parents have lost their jobs, parents can’t get a job because now they’re now forty – five, fifty years old, et cetera. It’s a trying time —

 

If you were to see Will Henderson doing his fitness routine, you’d have a hard time believing he’s in his nineties. In fact, he may be in better physical shape than many people who are but a fraction of his age.

 

I saw this amazing picture of you. It was an article written about you when you were eighty – eight years old, and you were doing a one – handed pushup with a twist, and holding onto like a twenty or thirty-pound ball with the other hand.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And you were eighty – eight.

 

Yes.

 

And like, that happens every day?

 

That happens every day. Still happens. I —

 

Tell us about your fitness routine, and how long you’ve done it.

 

Well, basically, fitness isn’t just working out in the gymnasium, so to speak of. But I — I’ve sort of been on that side of it; track, basketball, been a lifeguard, and then hanging out on the beach for twenty – two years here in Hawai‘i with all of the guys. And I got pure evidence that I did that, ‘cause I get those skin cancers —

 

Mm.

 

— In the da — I go in to the doctor, et cetera. And so, you do – it — it’s important to do something all of the time. And if you do, you’ll be surprised what you could do at ninety years of age. And so, I’ve ha — long had two separate programs. I have one at home that I do every morning; and that is a stretch program, and then these rubber band things that you work with.

 

M – hm.

 

I work with those. I have a lanai that’s a hundred and eighty feet around, so I — I do a run four or five mornings a week. Not very far; enough to support flexibility, et cetera. And then, I ride the elevator down, and I walk up twelve flights of stairs without stopping. And that’s my morning exercise. But I go to the Honolulu Club and to a second club that I have joined. They’re quite different, even though they are fitness clubs. In the Honolulu Club, I work out more with weights and multiple machines that work many different parts of your body. And I imagine you could still work to develop muscle, but when you’re this old, you’ve lost your muscle and a lot of your strength, so you always work within what your muscles can do and what your — what weights you can lift, and the likes of that. Yeah, and —

 

What about the other gym?

 

The other one’s exactly the same thing. But it’s very small, it’s quiet, and the payoff is, I can go there, and in forty – five minutes complete a workout. It’s an hour and a half to two hours.

 

Because you chat, or because you have to wait —

 

All the time.

 

— for machines?

 

You’ve got all of your friends, and you — yeah, and that’s a great part of my social life now, because I have stopped and gotten off of all of the board of directors I’ve been on, and all of the groups that I participated in. An — and I — I’ve brought it home to — my commitment is to health; my health and your health. If I see friends that — I won’t badger them, but I will suggest to them that you should be doing an exercise program —

 

M – hm.

 

— for your health, and the likes of that. But there’s a payout, an unexpected payout.

 

What is it?

 

You’ve got all of these handsome, husky guys that are around there, and these ladies. They’re — some of them have been there for thirty years with me. And they are fit, and they’re in good shape, and they are marvelous. And they come up to you and say … You’re my hero, you’re my idol, I want to be just like you. Some of ‘em, the chuckle [INDISTINCT] are the ones that come up and about — they’re overweight, and the likes of that. And they said, When I am your age, I want to be just like you. [CHUCKLE]

 

But the way you get to be your age is to —

 

It’s a long trip —

 

— be working out.

 

— for them. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, you’ve always maintained a fitness regimen?

 

No, not in the way that I do it now. But I was always sort of in athletics, and swimmer. And so, you get to the point that you’re committed. And it takes that commitment. And it becomes a joy that you are out there, and you still … can race the bus at ninety years old.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] I gave that one up.

 

[CHUCKLE] But you were doing it until recently?

 

Yeah.

 

Racing the bus.

 

Two years ago, last time.

 

Do you feel ninety – two? I guess — do you feel the way you felt when you were sixty – two or forty – two?

 

Feel better.

 

Feel better.

 

Think about it; I feel better.

 

And his mental shape, equally better. Mahalo to Will Henderson for sharing his story with us — and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I was in my car and stopped at a red light and a lady rear ended me and almost killed me. And and so my recovery started by going to Honolulu Club. These big husky guys would come along and grab me by the seat of the pants and get me up on my feet — cause I couldn’t get up off the bench — and get me up on my feet and say, you look wonderful. You look great!

 

===================

 

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 12, 2013

 

Humble Beginnings

 

Will Henderson is former longtime President and CEO of Queen’s Medical Center. In the first of two episodes, Will talks about his humble beginnings in South Dakota. Raised in poverty, Will could not speak until age 3, and spent much of his young adult life taking remedial education classes. Determination paid off, and he eventually began his career in health care administration – a career of which he says his mother could never conceive.

 

Download: Will Henderson, Humble Beginnings Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Work hard, be honest, and work hard again. I’ve worked hard all my life. I enjoy it; I enjoy hard work.

 

I mean, have you always thought you were in the process of becoming?

 

Yes.

 

Always?

 

Always. Even almost to this day, I have things I’m becoming.

 

As a young boy facing poverty and isolation, Will Henderson’s early years were bleak. How did a disadvantaged child grow up to be a respected leader in Hawai‘i? Sometimes, the toughest situations in life set us up for our greatest successes. Retired healthcare executive, Will Henderson, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Will Henderson served as president and CEO of the Queen’s Medical Center for much of his career, retiring as a respected leader and mentor in the community. Ninety – two years old at the time of our conversation in 2013, he remains akamai and fit. He first came to Hawai‘i in the late 1950s, when he was recruited to lead the struggling Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital in Honolulu. Will was the first hospital administrator in Hawai‘i to have specialized education and training in the new field of healthcare management. But Will says education, leadership, and success did not come easy.

 

So … where did your life begin, and what was your life like as a kid?

 

Leslie, if you’ve heard of the plains of South Dakota, you may have heard of it, but you don’t know what it was like. Barren, and wind – blowing all of the time. And in the late 1800s, our government established some land grants be given away, Oklahoma land rush. Well, there wasn’t a rush to South Dakota, but people did go there, and my mother and father went to that godforsaken country, and started their own life. And it is a lesson in the future. I feel, I would not change my life, as poverty – ridden as it was, no education, whatever it was. I would not change it, because there two things about my mother and father that were so important now in my later years of life is, hard work and honesty. And I have carried those with me to the point that sometimes honesty has gotten me into a little bit of a disagreement with top leadership and the likes of that. My closest neighbor was about six miles away. As a child, you didn’t know anyone there. Your parents did. My father, I hardly knew him, because he was always out trying to get work —

 

As a …

 

— to have a little bit of money.

 

What did he do?

 

Just any kind. Because in those days … I don’t know of anyone that had any training, any background. They had only a sixth grade education. And yet, mathematics, he could do anything with his hands, he could build buildings. Almost anything that could be done, he could do it. And my mother was a beautiful lady; beautiful lady. And she was a lady. [CHUCKLE] She should never have been out on those desert plains; that’s all there is to is. Because that wasn’t her life; she wasn’t cut out for that.

 

You had siblings?

 

Two brothers; both younger.

 

And they were your playmates, because there weren’t any other kids close by.

 

Well, think about it. At three years old, I was still unable to talk. Because my brothers were younger, and my father wasn’t there and my mother was working to take care of the farm and everything, so you were alone all of the time. So, even at three years of age, I basically had no vocabulary.

 

So then comes the chance to go to school.

 

They decided that they would test me to see what grade I should be in. Now, mind you, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to count anything. So, for the first time, the ABC chart was put up in front of me.

 

And how old were you? Six?

 

I was seven, going on eight. Yeah. And the principal, starched up and everything, was pointing to this, and this, and this. I did not know a single one of them. And he said to my mother, We’ll have to put him in the first grade. I can remember that.

 

Did it make you feel you were at the back of the class, and in the hole? How did you feel?

 

Leslie, I was so uninitiated with other people, there was no thought. The only thing you do; oh, they’re gonna put you in class. So they put you in a seat, and you just sat there. You didn’t have any idea what was going on, and all you knew is, oh, class is out. Oh, so you left, and you’d go home.

 

So, at this point, your educational prospects do not look strong, Will.

 

Not at all. Did you ever read The Little Red Hen?

 

I think so.

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] that was a year before I could read that book, The Little Red Hen. And that’s how difficult the future would be.

 

To catch up with his education, Will Henderson would feel he had to take remedial classes, even into adulthood. But his early years on the farm did teach him valuable lessons.

 

And then, by this time, we’re in the Black Hills. And this was the beginning of a turnaround time in my life. Those were good, enjoyable years. And schooling was a challenge to me, always. I always had to work hard. And this is how I said earlier; I was blessed that my parents believed in hard work, because that translated to me. And I thought nothing of going to school, and I had to work for it. That was just a part of life. And that went on to my third grade, my fourth grade, my fifth grade.

 

As a young boy, Will Henderson didn’t have much socialization. But during his high school years, a path towards friends and popularity started with a simple footrace.

 

I remember an event, that I was just in my ordinary big clopper shoes. You always wore shoes that were probably up to your ankles and the likes of that. And I happened to be standing out on the track field, and our school champion, he was a runner, his name was Squeak. And Squeak says, Hey, come on, run with me. And so, okay, we got started at the line. We were just practicing. And so, we went down the first hundred yards, made the turn, headed back the next hundred yards. And at fifty feet, I passed him, and he quit. And I went on and ran on in. Hey, he said, what’s going on here? I hadn’t run before, I didn’t know anything about it. So, I got into track. But, just a little bit of leadership began to develop, and as good fortune would have it, I went on and then played basketball as a major sport.

 

When you say leadership, you mean leadership by example? Because it sounds like you haven’t been a big participant at this point.

 

I was elected vice president of the senior class. And that was my first time of ever being in a role of being a leader.

 

And why do you think you got elected?

 

[CHUCKLE] Because I was the best basketball player, the champion in that, and then I was the best runner. So, athletics paid off in that time.

 

While in high school, Will Henderson’s family moved from the plains of South Dakota to the forests of Oregon to find better work opportunities. Life didn’t get much easier for Will, but he began to take charge of his future.

 

Oregon was … great poverty, as much as that I had been in. This is why I basically was in poverty most of my life. But Oregon was cold, rainy most of the time, foggy. Lived right on the edge of water.

 

Did your parents better their circumstances by moving, would you say?

 

I think so. Better for them, because we were now able to be together as a family. Both my mother and father worked. Jobs were very hard to come by, and so you basically took any job that you could get. My father worked in the sawmills. And I started working in the sawmill at sixteen years of age to have money to go to pay for my clothes to go to school, that sort of thing.

 

And go to school, or did you take off from school?

 

Oh, no; at that time, at sixteen, I was in school. This is when I was being a campus hero. [CHUCKLE]

 

Okay. And so, you’d go after school and work in the sawmills?

 

Well, that would be on weekends and in the summer.

 

I see.

 

When I would work in the sawmill

 

And it sounds like tough work. I don’t know what you do in the sawmills, but it doesn’t sound easy.

 

Yeah; it’s hard, hard work. It’s always hard work to be doing manual work like that.

 

And did you have career day, where you could consider what you might want to do for a living when you grew up?

 

Never; never once. You had no one. Mind you, in those days, not one single person among all of my friends and everything had gone to college. And when I laid out fifteen months from my senior year, in that fifteen months, yes, I worked the entire time in sawmills.

 

Why did you do that?

 

To get money to go to college. ‘Cause I said I was going to go to college.

 

So that was right after your senior year?

 

After my senior year. Every single person told me, You will not go on to college, you’re laid out, you’re finished. This is hard work, and commitment. I went to college. I earned the money; I went to college.

 

So, you got exposed somewhat, but here you are as a young kid saving money for college. What made you do that?

 

What made me do it? [CHUCKLE] Leslie …

 

Working in the sawmills. [CHUCKLE]

 

What would you do if you were working in the sawmills and logging camps, road construction, and longshoreman? Those jobs are hard jobs. They don’t pay a lot. In the sawmill, I made forty – three cents an hour. That would be in 1939, 1940.

 

Was that good for a teenager to make?

 

[CHUCKLE] Oh, it was great. Nobody else had any money. They were doing the same job.

 

People were supporting families on forth – three cents an hour, you were saying.

 

Yes, they were.

 

After all his hard work raising money for college in the sawmills of Oregon, Will Henderson attended the University of Oregon. However, after only one year, he put his college plans on hold.

 

There was a timeout period. I put four years into the timeout period. That’s World War II.

 

That’s quite a timeout. So, did you get drafted, or did you volunteer?

 

If you didn’t volunteer, you were going to be drafted. So, I volunteered. [CHUCKLE]

 

And where did you serve?

 

That was from 1941, 1946, and I was Navy. And by accident, I was put into the medical corps. And I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my future.

 

So, what does a medical corpsman do on a ship?

 

Well, you’re the basic doctor on ship. And I was on one that did not have a physician. The big ones would have a physician to back you up. But I was alone. I served on the LST. LST is about the worst ride you can get on the ocean. It’s flat – bottomed, so it’s like this. All of the time, I was seasick all of the time. Four years.

 

And probably, that’s what you treated a lot of; right? People came in for seasickness.

 

Amazing, the other people didn’t get seasick or anything. But they had almost everything else. Gonorrhea, everything that.

 

So, you were treating conditions that were above your pay grade?

 

[CHUCKLE] Let me tell you something. My pay grade was thirty dollars a month, I think. So, whatever I was doing was probably above the pay grade. [CHUCKLE] It was an eye – opener to meet, at about age nineteen, twenty, twenty – one, all of these kids thrown together. And now, I look back, when we were called the greatest generation. Well, I believe in that. We earned it, and I accept it with great pride. But all of these guys, as rough as they were, and most of them totally uneducated, in my early gang that I was with, there were only two of us. One had finished college, and I’d had one year. And so, you think about it, these were all of these poor kids that their families were poor, they came out of the teens, the 19 – teens, the 20s, the 30s. And there wouldn’t be many in the 30s there, because we were at war in 1940. But that was an education.

 

During Will Henderson’s military service, he continued his remedial education through a chance encounter with a schoolteacher.

 

I met a very old schoolteacher — she was forty – two years old, [CHUCKLE] at the USO, and became acquainted with her. And she had done something for me once, so I wrote her a letter of thanks. The next time I came in, she grabbed me by the ear and she said, Come over here, we are going to start teaching you grammar. And we started. First two words we worked on: then and than. That lady had three boys, almost the same age as myself and my brothers. And that became extended family for me. And the youngest son, he and I are still in hanai brother relationship now.

 

How long did she tutor you?

 

I knew her over a period of four years.

 

Four years.

 

Four years.

 

And it helped you?

 

A great deal.

 

After the end of World War II, Will Henderson went back to Oregon and fulfilled his dream of a college education and bettering his circumstances.

 

Came back, and this time I knew a little bit more about [CHUCKLE] going to school. And I went to Willamette University, a small private university in Oregon. And that was a magnificent experience. Magnificent.

 

How was your college experience? I mean, you’d had a rough time with schooling in the past. What was it like after the war? And after your tutoring.

 

Number one, I continued my remedial classes through all of this time. And all my faculty would tell me, You don’t need this, you passed. Well, the psyche, you needed this. And so, college was magnificent. Magnificent. This is your really coming out time. I was president of my freshman class, president of my sophomore class, president of my junior class. And when it came around to senior, one of the girls in the class said, Will, you’ve had everything, someone else should be president. I said, Okay. I was vice president.

 

[CHUCKLE] What happened? What turned you into the student government president?

 

I guess you begin to grow up, and you begin to learn about socialization, and you begin to learn about participation. After Willamette, I went to University of Oregon for a year of graduate work. In the graduate work, I decided to know something I don’t know anything in this world, except something about being a pharmacist mate in the military. And stupidity is still a part of my [CHUCKLE] career, because I decided I will try to go to the university, and I found out there was a new career developing in universities. And that was a career in being a hospital executive. And applied to one school — talk about not being very smart, University of California Berkeley. And by good fortune, finishing that, I got the opportunity then to go into assistant vice president at UCLA Medical Center, brand new medical center being built. And so, I went on the management team in the school faculty. And all of a sudden, you’re in a role that you either have to grow, or you have to get out. And you had people who were available to you, that you could go to. And in those training years, those people became my personal supporters.

 

The future was looking bright for Will Henderson, now an administrator at the UCLA Medical Center. His decision to enter the newly formed career path of hospital management began to open opportunities for him. One day, Will received a call that would alter the course of his life. Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital in Honolulu, Hawai‘i was a financially troubled institution interested in him as its prospective president and CEO.

 

So, you’re in Hawai‘i, and you’re about to meet the people who are looking at you for this new job.

 

Children’s Hospital; today, no one knows where Children’s Hospital is.

 

I remember where it was; it was on the grounds of the Rehab Hospital, where that is now. Right?

 

On Kuakini Street.

 

Kuakini.

 

Yes, indeed. I met the chairman of the board and the vice chairman of the board, and we talked at length. They were very, very honest. They told me in the first sentence, We are bankrupt, we’re going to close, but we wanted from your friend in San Francisco — he told us about you, and so, we decided that we wanted to bring you here and wanted to talk to you. But he says, We’re going to go bankrupt, we’re closing up. And I spent a week here, and talking with them often, and et cetera, et cetera. And finally, I said, Well, I don’t know, I’m very, very uncertain about this; I have a magnificent job at this brand new medical center. And the old chairman of the board said, You go home, and you think about it. Ten days, and you call me. And about eleven hours before the ten days were over, I called him and said I’ll take the job.

 

Why? Why would you join a hospital that the head has told you is going to go bankrupt? Why would you do that?

 

There was such an appeal. And I looked at this, and I said, I can make that go.

 

Will Henderson turned around Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital and took them out of bankruptcy within his first year on the job. His leadership did not go unnoticed, and soon, he was recruited to become the president and CEO of the Queen’s Hospital, which became the Queen’s Medical Center.

 

You know, I was thinking that your family, most of them have passed on; right?

 

All have passed away. I’m the last remaining. I have a story I have to tell you about my mother. And I hope there’s a way that you will understand this. I brought here five times during the time that I was president at Queen’s. And then, the fifth time she was here — and all the prior times, all through the buildings, and introduced her to the people, and everything else. We stood out in front of the Queen’s Medical Center, and she turned to me and she said, Will, what do you do here? She never could conceive …

 

That her son grew up to be the president and CEO of a major medical center.

 

From poverty; from poverty.

 

What did you tell her? What do you there?

 

The best I could explain to her was to say, Mom, I’m responsible for everything here, and I’m responsible for everyone here, and I’m totally committed to it. Now, she understood that.

 

Will Henderson retired in Honolulu after twenty – two years of service to the Queen’s Medical Center. He’s credited with helping to transform the hospital into the modern medical center it is today by putting in place many of the practices and healthcare concepts that are now commonplace. At the time, Queen’s Medical Center board chair Malcolm MacNaughton said that Will set the standard in hospital leadership with compassion, understanding, and dedication. Will still humbly attributes much of his success in life to the lessons he learned as a child on the harsh plains of South Dakota. Mahalo to Will Henderson for sharing his story with us; and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

But there was nothing; we didn’t have any toys.

 

You didn’t have a TV to keep you company in those days; right?

 

[CHUCKLE] We didn’t even have a telephone. Was nothing. And I think from that kind of venture, it’s with you for the rest of your life. Because I can look back and see that the things that I do, commitment to hard work, I’ve worked hard my entire life.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Yamada

 

Susan Yamada is Executive Director of the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Shidler College of Business. Yamada calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur,” with a career that moved from hospitality to publishing to leading tech companies. After a successful life in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, she came home to Hawaii, never needing to work again. But in this phase of her life, she has dedicated herself to giving back to her community by mentoring young future entrepreneurs.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed., July 20 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 24 at 4:00 pm.

 

Susan Yamada Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I just talked with a CEO of a large company who said, If I’m feeling comfortable, I suspect something is wrong. Something has to be wrong.

 

Yeah. I think there always needs to be that level of discomfort, because that means you’re pushing things, you know, whether it’s your company, your programs, yourself personally. So, people go, Why? Why do you want to do that? And I think the more you do that—and pushing your comfort zone, in my mind, is taking risks. And it’s not like, yeah, I’m gonna jump off a cliff and hope, you know, I have my parachute. It’s really calculated risks that you’re trying to take. And I think what that does is, it really builds confidence that, Hey, I can do it, I can talk to Leslie on TV, and everything was good, and I didn’t die. And all those culmination of experiences, I think, gives you the confidence to move forward and do other things in the future. It gave me the confidence to move from one industry to another industry, it gave me the confidence to take risks that, you know, others may not have taken, and know that it’s not gonna be the end of the world if it fails, because I’m building a skillset that I can then transfer to something else.

 

Susan Yamada’s confidence has taken her from playing football in the streets of Kaneohe to leading tech companies during the dot-com boom. Even with her crazy work hours and success on the West Coast, she never lost sight of home. Susan Yamada, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Susan Yamada, raised in Windward Oahu, was an accidental entrepreneur who did very well in the Silicon Valley dot-com industry. She was so successful that when she returned to Hawaii to raise her children, she didn’t ever have to work for pay again. Yet, she does. Today, Yamada is the executive director of PACE; that’s the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship within the Shilder College of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She’s mentoring Hawaii’s future entrepreneurs. Yamada grew up in Kaneohe, where she realized at a young age that she loved to compete.

 

Kind of a Rockwell-ian childhood. You know, my dad had his own business selling plywood in town, in Kalihi. My mom was a schoolteacher, so she taught kindergarten at Heeia Elementary School. And I have two brothers; one older than me, two years, and one younger than I am.

 

So, you’re the only girl, and you’re the middle child.

 

Yes.

 

Does that say anything about you?

 

Hm … that’s a good question. I think it says a lot about me in that I grew up playing more baseball than with dolls. I remember one Christmas I got a hairdryer, and that turned into a nice little pistol.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So, yeah.

 

And you’re athletic.

 

I love athletics. Growing up, we played in the neighborhood, right? Baseball, football, with all the neighborhood kids. So, yeah, I love sports.

 

Did you play in the street?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

In the street.

 

And the cars had to wait a little bit ‘til you could get off the road?

 

Luckily, we lived on a dead end, but you know, every time the ball went into, like, the mean neighbor’s house, you know, everybody ran away.

[CHUCKLE]

 

Whoever hit the ball into that yard had to go get it; right? So, it was just kinda like that. Okay; pass the telephone pole, that’s a touchdown. Okay. And then, this manhole cover, that’s home plate. So, it was really cool.

 

That’s interesting that you were an athlete and a tomboy. So, does that mean competition might have been easier for you when you hit the business world? ‘Cause in those days, women were still …

 

Yeah; that’s interesting.

 

–treated differently.

 

I think my competitiveness helped me. I don’t like to lose. You know, I like to set my goals and achieve them. But I think when I set out on my business career, that really wasn’t kind of foremost in my mind.

 

What was high school like for you? I mean, public high school in Hawaii.

 

Yeah.

 

Everyone has fond memories, or maybe not so fond.

 

Yeah; it was a lot of fun. You know, I went to public schools all the way up to Castle. And so, some kids you knew, and then you know more kids as you go to King. And that’s when, I don’t know, there’s like four or five elementary schools in the Kaneohe area that all matriculate to King Intermediate. And so, I got to know a lot more friends at King Intermediate, and then we all went up to Castle. And you know, I just met a ton of friends, and we remain friends to this day. You know, every Christmas, we have a gathering and we get together, and we just laugh and laugh.

 

Did your parents explicitly tell you about life? Did they give you advice, or was it leading by example?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah; well, career-wise anyway, my mom gave me advice. And she said, Be a schoolteacher, because schoolteachers, you get the summer off, all the holidays, when your kids are off you’ll be off too. So from that point, I wasn’t a really good listener. But, you know, I think the fundamental values that they exhibited themselves about being hardworking, being honest, being a contributing member of society; they totally led by example. And I feel that that’s the foundation for my life. And on that, you grow, you know, who you are, what you become, and things like that.

 

Your father owned his own business, and then sold it; right?

 

Yes. Yeah; so, that was great, because growing up in elementary school, he had his own business, and on weekends, he’d let one or two of us come over to his—and it was a pretty small place. And you know, we’d just kinda be messing around. And he had uh, a plywood business as well as some hardware supplies. And so, all the scrap wood, we’d just be building stuff, and sometimes he’d tell us to clean out the hardware area, so we’d do that. All so we could have like, this Boulevard Saimin plate lunch for lunch. And that was like, the best Saturday, was to be able to go with Dad to work.

 

When you were raised, I imagine your parents really weren’t giving you water bottles and …

 

Oh, we drank from the hose.

 

–and helicoptering.

 

We drank from the hose. [CHUCKLE]

 

And telling you, Don’t come back ‘til—I bet you they said, Don’t come back ‘til dusk, or …

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

How did you raise you kids? Differently than that?

 

You know, it’s very different, and it’s unfortunate, really. When I was growing up, it was like, you know, you had something to eat for breakfast, you were out, you were playing all day. When you got hungry, you know, you came home, you made yourself a sandwich, you went back out again, and you had to come home when you saw Dad’s car coming down the road, because you’re either gonna have to do yardwork, or dinner’s gonna be ready soon. And so, we had so much freedom. You know, we’d get on our bikes, we’d ride down to the river, catch fifty fish, put ‘em all in an aquarium and try to name ‘em all. I mean, it’s crazy; right? And you know, I’m sad for my kids that they couldn’t have that level of freedom at that young age anymore.

 

Well, why couldn’t they?

 

You know, I don’t know how much is reality and how much is perception in parenting at this point, where you know, even if my kids, when they were in elementary school were playing in the front yard, I felt like I had to be out in front

 

watching. If there’s even a miniscule chance that your kid’s gonna get abducted, then of course, you’re gonna be out front and you’re gonna be watching. But it’s just a different world. And because, you know, our neighborhood wasn’t full of kids, you know, you would have to have play dates, you would have to invite kids over to play with them. And you know, when you were talking about helicopter parents, you know, I don’t think I am one. But, you are, when your kids are young, kind of setting their life up. It’s less creative for them, I think, at this point. You know, that’s where I think some of the old charm, I guess, of Hawaii is being lost. And I was just commenting to my friends; I go, I know I’m getting old because I’m grumbling a lot now about how it used to be and how it is now, and how it’s, you know, losing some of that ohana, that inclusive community sometimes.

 

After Susan Yamada earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she went into the hotel industry. Eventually, her love of the ocean led her to greater opportunities.

 

I learned some interesting things that they don’t teach you at the Travel Industry Management School. And that’s when you work at a hotel chain, if you want to move up, many times you have to transfer out of one hotel into another. And at the time, I know it’s hard to believe, but there was just one Marriott in the State, and that was on Maui. That was the first Marriott that they built. And so, I was there, and then I found out I would have to travel. So, my big goal in life after the university was to move to Maui.

 

Why?

 

Because my cousins were there, and I used to spend all my summers there, and I just loved the lifestyle there; it’s just so laid back. But I found that, you know, being single and in my twenties, after about two and a half years, it was just a really small place. And so, it was time for my promotion, or I was up for promotion, and so, they asked if I wanted to either go to, I think it was Torrance or Santa Clara. So, I got out the map, because to that point I had been out of state once. And I went on my second trip right before I moved, but I knew nothing; right? So, I looked to see what the proximity of those two areas was to the beach. So …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Santa Clara looked much closer. So, I chose Santa Clara. And little did I know that Santa Clara is Silicon Valley. So, that was … a good move on my part, but I can’t say that I planned it.

 

And you had the beach.

 

Yeah.

 

But, you know, you’re going there to work in the hotel industry, not to work in Silicon Valley.

 

Yes; uh-huh. And so, that’s what I thought; it was just a next step, I would go there, spend two years there, and then I would come back home. And so, I got there, and … and this is why I feel a lot of local kids, they should really get out, because it’s such a big world. You know, I thought tourism; hey, being from Hawaii, wanting to stay in Hawaii, that’s where my career opportunities were gonna be. And when I got to Silicon Valley, it was just like, Oh, my gosh. It was just … you know, drinking from a fire hose, there were so many different opportunities. So, I went, I got my MBA after two and a years at the Santa Clara Marriott. And then, I got into the technology industry.

 

Susan Yamada left the hotel industry to pursue work that would give her experience in running a business. She got an opportunity to test her skills when she was offered a job at Upside Magazine, a publication that was on the cutting edge of the digital revolution, and groundbreaking in its time.

 

What did you do in those years between your MBA and that?

 

Okay; so I was a research analyst for the technology industry for a couple years, and I worked in a head injury rehab organization, doing the business side of it. My father-in-law had a contact with a magazine publisher, and he said, I’ve got a failing magazine that needs to get turned around, and I’m looking for somebody to run it. And so, I think maybe it was four years out of my MBA, my father-in-law introduced me to this guy. And that’s how I got my first opportunity to run a company. And it was a failing company.

 

What was that transition like?

 

The one thing that I learned is, business is business, no matter what you’re hawking. So whether you’re in the hotel business, or whether—you know, I was a consultant soon after researcher and analyst, you know, you have a product and you need to sell it. And so, that, I think, was one of the first lessons that I had of, Okay, how do you make money? You know, what is my business, and how do you make money.

So, you go from head injuries and research and analysis to magazine publishing.

 

Yes.

 

Of course, that is in the middle of, at that time, a digital revolution.

 

Right. So, the internet was just starting to come out and be a big player. And so, the magazine that we had—and again, it’s hard to believe, but there was no wired, when you picked up Business Week, they didn’t have an extensive editorial about the technology industry. Technology industry was just starting to come out. The PC was just kinda transforming all kinds of things. We were trying to figure out all the different things PCs could do. So, our magazine really focused on those sorts of needs to a higher level audience. So, they were executives within the technology industry that wanted to know what other people were doing, because the future of technology was still unlimited.

 

So, did that put you in touch with the titans of technology?

 

Yeah; yeah. So, every month, we would have an interview with one of the leaders in the technology industry, whether it was Bill Gates, or Larry Ellison. It was just an incredible time. And I’m not sure it would be so easy to get those interviews today. But during that time, you know … most definitely.

 

And did you think that was your calling, magazines?

 

I loved it. Yeah. It wasn’t so much magazines as it was I loved the fact that you never knew if you were gonna make payroll.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I know; I know. And people were like, That would drive me nuts. And you know, obviously, it wasn’t just like wishing. You actually put together a plan and start implementing the plan. But when things start working, it’s so exciting to see that.

 

Susan Yamada was the publisher of Upside Magazine for five and a half years. During that time, the magazine became profitable, and the connections she made there opened doors to new opportunities in the digital revolution.

 

That’s when the internet was starting to take off. And that was a super-exciting time. It was like the second coming of the Gold Rush in California, because there was so much excitement in the Bay Area. People were flocking to the Bay Area to take part in, you know, the internet mania. You know, if you graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree and you were halfway decent, you were making six figures already. It took me all my career to that point, to get up to that point. And here these kids are, and just because there was such a shortage

 

of talent, they were making incredible money; there was so much money going around in the Bay Area at that time.

 

And so, what did you do? What was your next step?

 

I joined an internet startup company called Trustee. And if you look at a lot of the major websites now, they all have privacy statements, and many of them have a Trustee seal. And it was an interesting time, because the internet was so new, privacy was an issue. Privacy of your personal information; your name, your address, your phone number. Because the internet is a global marketplace, and unlike the United States, the European union considers your personal information yours. In the United States, any information you give, that’s a database for somebody to sell. And we used to sell that database extensively when I was at Upside. Now, we’re dealing with the fact of having to train U.S. websites that they have to state what they’re using that information they’re collecting it for, and they have to do it.

 

Your company came up with that limitation?

 

Yeah; right.

 

And Trustee is still working?

 

Still there; yeah. Still operational? Wow. So, what happened to your time there? Because

 

clearly, you don’t do that anymore.

 

You know, the first time a big site came in, like the first time Yahoo said they were gonna use our seal, you know, the crowd goes wild; right? But, you know, when Microsoft comes in, it’s like, Mm, all right. Then, when, you know, Netscape was really big at that time came in, it’s just so anticlimactic already. It’s like you were expecting it to happen. And I don’t know; for me, it just kinda gets boring, really. So … I just find eighteen to twenty-four months, it’s time to move on.

 

Now, it seems to me that at that time, there were very few women, probably very few Asian women.

 

M-hm.

 

Very few Asians, period.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like for you?

 

My married name was Scott, so it was Susan Scott. And when I would make an appointment to see people, they were expecting Susan Scott; right? And so, I think first impressions are very important. And I think if I went in on the mainland as Susan Yamada, there would be a ton of stereotypes. I don’t know; I think it’s just human nature. But right in that little time when they were like, looking around in the waiting room for this Susan—

 

Where’s the blond?

 

Yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s exactly right. A tall, statuesque blond woman; right? Isn’t that what you would think? And so, right in that moment of confusion, it was my time to make a good impression. So, you know, that’s when I would just be, you know, very forthright and go, Hi, I’m, you know, Susan, and just try and break any stereotype they may have had about me already. So, I use that as one specific example. But the one thing that I felt about the technology industry is, for the most part, it’s gender-neutral. It’s like, What can you help me with? And if you have the skillsets, I never felt like gender was a big, big issue.

 

But you did have to get in the door.

 

Totally. Yeah.

 

Susan Yamada moved back to Hawaii in 2001. She had made enough money to retire, and she spent her time raising her children and volunteering in the community. Over time, plans changed, and in 2008, Yamada started working part-time at the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship in the Shidler College of Business at the UH. That turned into a fulltime role.

 

The job with Shidler, I mean, it’s not something I have to do, but it’s something that I’ve come to love to do. And part of it is a bigger issue of being able to give back to Hawaii. I mean, it’s been fantastic for me, it’s where my roots are, I love it here. The seventeen years I was in Silicon Valley, you know, my main purpose was a goal that took me too long to attain, ‘cause as I told you before, it was just supposed to be two years that I was up there, was to come back. Because this is my home. And so, having the opportunity to be able to give

 

back to my community through the university, because I’m very passionate about education, it’s an honor for me to do that. So, yeah; I could be messing around and playing golf all day, but I don’t think I’d get the same level of fulfillment.

 

In your opinion, what are the things that drive entrepreneurs? I mean, are they very different, and you can’t generalize, or do they tend to be hardwired in a certain way?

 

I think there are certain characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur. Number one is, they have to have a vision and drive. And they can’t be easily dissuaded. You know, so you talk about entrepreneurship and passion a lot. And I think a big part of that is passion; it is very important. You need to be able to really believe that what you’re providing will be a significant improvement to your life, whoever your buyer is. And the first year, the first two years, the first five years, it’s very, very difficult, and you have to work really hard. So, I think the work ethic and passion are two things that we always look for. And then, there’s the coach-ability stand point.

 

It seems like such a tough deal, where an entrepreneur has to be able to be able to persevere, despite rejection and hard times, and yet, has to know when they’re hearing advice that they really should take and leave it, do something else.

 

Exactly. I mean, it is not easy, for sure. But it is something that almost every single startup will go through at some point.

 

Have you ever been wrong in saying, That’s not gonna work, don’t do it?

 

Rarely do I say that. Because, you know what? If I was that smart, I would be … I don’t know, sitting on a beach right now; right? ‘Cause you never know; right?

 

So, what do you say?

 

If they wanted to open a restaurant, for example, serving hamburgers in Waikiki, the first question I would ask is, How are you different from these ten other competitors that are—

 

So, you ask probing questions so that they make their own conclusions.

 

Now, if you are different, right, if you’re a Korean style taco truck, for example, which is wildly successful in L.A., okay, maybe that’s enough of a difference; right? If you have a social media campaign … I need to see different. I can’t see the same. Because if you’re copying the same thing, it’s very, very, very tough. A goal is hard work. And if you’re easily dissuaded from your idea, or you don’t have that passion, or perseverance, not gonna happen.

 

And how do people even support themselves for four or five ideas, while they’re just refining this?

 

Yeah. So, that’s what I tell my students. I go, If you ever have entrepreneurial aspirations, do it now. You don’t have kids, you don’t have to pay, you know, for tuitions, you don’t have to pay a mortgage or your car loan. I said, You have the least to lose right now, so do it now.

 

But whoever doesn’t have that when they’re an adult?

 

And that’s where it gets much harder. But it is possible. So, you know, I was adult when I started my business. So it’s possible; you can do it. You just have to be able to manage what resources you have.

 

And yet, Susan Yamada credits her time away from Hawaii for challenging her to grow in ways that she may not have if she’d stayed home.

 

If people could have seen you in Silicon Valley at the time they were working at their jobs in Honolulu, would you have had a markedly different style from your style now?

 

I think I’m more forward, and I’m less concerned about what people think about what I say. So, maybe less filter. And I think part of that has to do with, you know, where I am today or who I am today, and not being overly concerned about, am I gonna get a promotion, or what are people gonna think about me. I mean, they can think whatever they want to think, actually. It’s just who I am, it’s what my opinion is. And we can agree to disagree, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I don’t have to win an argument. So, I think, you know, it has changed me. I think it’s given me more confidence to say what I want to say, and just be who I am, and not try to be someone that someone else wants me to be.

 

Do you recall being that way before?

 

I think when you’re younger, you’re a lot more insecure. And so, you know, you take everything to heart, and maybe you create self-perception issues that might not even be there. But I think the great thing about getting older is … who cares?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know,I am who I am, and you know, I try to be a good person. And so,I try and let that guide me. I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

Who?

 

Your friends in the kitchen cabinet.

 

Oh, I don’t want them to agree with me.

 

You just want to hear some … how you would handle this, and then you decide what you do.

 

Because I don’t want them to tell me what to do. I want them to give me their opinion. Because they don’t what specifically I’m going through. And so, you take their opinion, and you make your own decision based on that.

 

But you never said formally to any of them, Would you be willing to be part of my kitchen cabinet?

 

No; no.

 

How did that evolve?

 

I just make them. [LAUGHTER] What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

 

Professionally, the magazine. So, we brought in the chairman of the board, the guy who hired me. He eventually wanted the job back after it was profitable. And so, I did conferences; that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to get back into a startup routine. And we weren’t really quite seeing eye-to-eye on things, and I came home from a conference, and there was an envelope on my front door. And it was a termination letter. And so, it’s like, he didn’t even have the courtesy to call me. You know, it was something he gave me, something that wasn’t successful, I was able to turn it around. And I was like, How can this happen? How can the board allow something like that to happen? So, that professionally was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.

 

Didn’t the magazine later go into bankruptcy?

 

Mm.

 

How long after that?

 

I think they expanded too quickly into the internet, and they put too many resources there, and they were under-capitalized, and so it didn’t work out. So, I think within the three years after that, it was pretty much on the ropes and down.

 

But that is quite the rejection, isn’t it? Especially after you’d put so much into it.

 

Yeah. After five years into it; right? And I didn’t think it was very well done, either.

 

Since you’ve headed PACE, what’s the best thing that’s come out of it?

 

I don’t think it would be a specific business idea. It’s the students that come out of there. You know, I see them going in, and I see them experiencing the joy of discovery, of the aha moments like, Ah, I get it; okay, I’ve gotta do this and this. And you know, they’re students; they’re so eager to please, they really want to do a good job. And when I see them working hard, when I see things coming together for them, I’m super-excited for them. Because what I think I’m doing is, I’m teaching them life lessons.

 

Susan Yamada is inspiring and challenging new generations of entrepreneurs through her passion and perseverance, qualities that continue to guide her own life. Mahalo to Susan Yamada of Honolulu for her enthusiasm and her commitment to serving our community. And mahalo to you for joining. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you see yourself making another change in the future?

 

Yeah; I definitely do. My son is in ninth grade now, and I’ve always said that— and this should be no shock to my boss, that once my son is into college, then I think that opens up a whole ‘nother chapter in my life as far as, what do I do next.

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Betty White

 

Betty White is the Head of School at Sacred Hearts Academy in Kaimuki, Honolulu. She was one of the very few in her high school class in rural Virginia who left home to pursue higher learning. She talks about her academic struggles, what brought her to Hawaii and her role at an all- girls school.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 4:00 pm.

 

Betty White Audio

 

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Transcript

 

I found college very hard. I found it hard academically. Because I had not been prepared well. My county was the worst county in the State of Virginia at the time. When they publish the test scores of all the public schools, my public school, my county had the worst test scores in the whole state. I don’t think I even had a biology lab. So, when I got to college and was thrown in with students who had had a very superior education, I decided early that if I was going to survive, I was going to have to work three times harder.

 

Three times harder?

 

Oh, yeah. And I did. I had a lot of catching up to do.

 

Growing up in a rural Virginia county where few high school graduates went on to higher education, Betty White and her six siblings all graduated from college. Now, as head of school at Sacred Hearts Academy, her goal is to make sure that her students receive an education that will prepare them not only for college, but for life. Betty White next, on Long Story Short.

 

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Betty Orr White, who is head of school at Sacred Hearts Academy, started her journey at this all girls school in Kaimuki as a social studies teacher. While being an educator has been both her career and her passion, she didn’t start out wanting to become a teacher. Growing up in a rural county in Virginia in the nineteen forties and fifties, she was one of only a small handful of graduates in her high school class who left home to pursue higher learning.

 

I understand that you grew up in one of the poorest areas in the country.

 

I did.

 

Where’s that?

I didn’t know that it was poor until I’d left and gone to college. It was in what we call Southwest Virginia. It’s in the thirty-five-degree triangle where Kentucky and Tennessee meet. And if you’re on the eastern side of the state, you have Washington, Alexandria, Richmond the big cities. And they had metropolitan areas, good school systems. Now, in Southwest Virginia we had something like ninety-eight counties. My county was Lee County, and that was named for Robert E. Lee. And it was the poorest country in the state. And one of the biggest poverty pockets in the whole country.

 

But you say you didn’t feel poor.

 

I didn’t. I didn’t know. I really didn’t know I was poor. And I won’t say the word poor, but very humble, very humble upbringing. The area is noted for timber, for coal mining, for having big cash crops. At that time, it was tobacco. And, I had a very loving, secure family. And our daily needs were met. We didn’t go to the supermarket much. We had our own gardens, we had pigs, we killed a cow every year for beef. We had our own chickens.

 

M-hm.

 

And our summers were hard, because we had to tend that garden, and well, it seemed even now, it seems like that garden was at least an acre.

 

You …

 

Green beans, corn, tomatoes. And at that time, we didn’t have a freezer, so we would call it canning them, in a pressure cooker. So, it was I can remember sitting and breaking four bushels of beans in one sitting. My parents they were not college educated. They were, back in southwest Virginia, they would be called humble, good, country folk.

 

M-hm.

 

My father went into the Army at an early age. Picked up, auto mechanic skills, and then was able to open his own automotive mechanic shop. My mother was a coal miner’s daughter. And she lived in a coal mining camp; that’s where she grew up. Such a good woman. She was never able to go to college, but she was such a beautiful cook, she sewed our clothes for seven children. Never had a pattern. And she loved country music.

 

Did she like the song, Coal Miner’s Daughter?

 

Oh, yeah. On Saturday night, you know, when we didn’t have book work, she would play the guitar. And she would sing for hours with us. And I had a couple of sisters that were also good singers. I wasn’t a good singer. But we had real, real good times.   When I went away to college I saw a completely different side of my hometown, and the area in which I lived.

 

 

After Betty White graduated from high school, she went on to higher learning at Mary Washington College, the women’s division of the University of Virginia. Even though she didn’t leave the state, Mary Washington was a world away from Lee County. Yet, it wasn’t until she read a book in her freshman year that she realized just how far away and how different her community was on the other side of Virginia.

 

Was it an assumption in your family that you would go to college?

 

No. I was one of seven children, and we all ended up going to college. But I think it was, there was never any pressure from our parents to go to college. It was just our own inner drive, our own inner ambitions to go to college.

 

And they supported you in that?

 

They supported us emotionally. But at that time, one could go to college and they could, work their way through. I worked every year, and I had scholarships.

 

So, you were going to college with what intention? What was the plan? Did you have a plan as a young woman?

 

I’m not so sure. I don’t ever remember having a plan. I just wanted to go to college. And so I graduated in a class of fifty-one students. So, out of that fifty-one students, about twenty to twenty-five percent went to college. And I just wanted to be one of them. So I cannot remember thinking that I wanted to be a teacher. And I think maybe that that happened because at that time, the State of Virginia had a scholarship; they wanted teachers. So, they would give quite a lucrative scholarship to those that were going into education, with the idea that you would give back a year of teaching for every year you got the scholarship. So, I needed the money. I needed the money, so that’s what I did.

I wanted to study, I studied political science. Even in graduate school, I studied government. So I was taking education courses just on the side because my parents did not have the money, the financial resources to help us. So, with seven children, we needed, we needed the scholarships.

 

Where did you go to college?

 

Well, I went to college in Fredericksburg.

 

So, you went …

 

I went all the way

 

To the city area.

 

across the state.

 

M-hm.

 

I went across the state. I always traveled by Greyhound Bus.

 

How long did it take you? How long were the drives?

 

About, a good trip was about twelve hours.

 

And you rode alone?

 

I rode alone. And I always rode behind the driver. Right. So at that time, Mary Washington was the ladies division, the women’s division of the University of Virginia. And I will never forget in one of my freshman courses one of our required readings was a book called Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Of course, it’s all about the Cumberland Mountains, the Cumberland Gap

 

M-hm.

 

where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett came through. And I sat in class and I thought, This is talking about me, this is talking about my area. And it was a whole different, a different mindset after that.

 

Because what did the book say about your area?

 

Well, it, what the author did was the insensitivity for the land, the insensitivity to the environment. Was poor, not a lot of of wealth in the area, but one of the most beautiful areas you could ever visit. But big companies had come in, cut the timber down.

 

And you mentioned coal mining.

 

Coal mining was big. Coal mining was sort of king. And they not only, you know, did, went under the earth, but they also coal mined from the surface. And it’s called strip mining. And they just raped the land.

 

And you saw that as jobs for people in the neighborhood, but

 

Well, but it’s even more than that. The biggest part of it was several valleys over. And I didn’t even know what was going on. After I read the book as part of my required freshman reading, I remember going home at Christmas and I was very interested in driving through. And I saw, you know, all the erosion of the land where they had cut trees down, dug into the earth’s surface. Environmentalists today would have a heyday, you know, criticizing how insensitive the people were to the environment.

 

Did it make you look differently at the people with whom you grew up, and the way you grew up?

 

I think I became a bit more humble, a bit more understanding. But never a lot of money, but we had enough to get by. We always had a lot of love in our family. The significance of a family was first and foremost. My parents were very strong on a faith-based family.

 

After Betty White graduated from college, she attended graduate school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. That was where she met Emmet White, a law student, who soon became her husband. After he graduated, Betty moved with him to Hawaii, where he started a law practice. It was the first time she would experience cultural diversity.

 

You lived in what I assume was pretty much an all-White neighborhood when you were growing up?

 

Definitely.

 

So, not

 

No

 

No diversity of

 

No diversity. They all looked just like me.

 

And those were when you were growing up, those were times of segregation, so there were bathrooms for African Americans only.

 

Segregation, although it was illegal, was definitely still happening. So, on the buses, I was always a little afraid, and so I always sat behind the driver. But I remember so well the Black people having to go to the back of the bus. We always had stops in Richmond, Virginia and you would go into the bus terminal. This would be a Greyhound Bus terminal. And they had the water fountains; you had to go to a particular water fountain, a particular bathroom. And even to get little snacks, they had special ones for Black people and special ones for White people.

 

Now, was that something you became accustomed to, because that’s all you knew?

 

I became accustomed to it because I’d studied it. Right? But I never lived in that type of an environment. And then on the college campus, both campuses that I attended in Virginia had very few Black people. It was mostly Whites, Caucasians.

 

What was it like coming to Hawaii, with no one having a majority in terms of race?

 

Well the thing I remember about coming to Hawaii has to do with a cousin who was quite a bit older than I was. And I guess he was in the Korean War. And he married a Chinese lady. And he brought her back to Virginia. She was the most beautiful person. You know, kind, generous. But I will never forget when I saw her, and her slanted eyes. I’d never seen an Asian or Oriental person. And then, when my husband and I moved here we saw plenty of Asians. Right? And so, then I happened to see this cousin-in-law again, and I didn’t notice her eyes at all. Because, you know, she blended into the environment here.

 

So, you had no trouble acculturating and getting used to everybody, getting to know other people’s cultural

 

Not really. Not really. No. It was, certainly a learning process, and it’s still a learning process even today, because there’s so many diverse groups. But, I take it in stride.

 

How did you get to Hawaii?

 

Well, my husband had gone to undergraduate school at Lafayette College in Eastern Pennsylvania with a young man from Hawaii. And I believe they’d even been roommates. And after they finished college, both of them went to law school, although it was different law schools. And so when both of them graduated, my husband decided that he would come to Hawaii. And they worked together for a while. And that’s what brought us here.

 

So, what did you think about coming over? Did you think it would be for a short time, I’ll try it out, or were you eager for a different life?

 

No. I think I came because I loved my husband, probably. But it was a long way from home. And the biggest thing was the distance from family.

 

This has been home for how long now? Longer than it was

 

Well

 

in Virginia

 

About forty-six years. Yeah.

 

Betty White had taught third grade at the only Catholic school in Williamsburg before following her husband to Hawaii. After moving here and having three children, she decided it was time to start teaching again. She landed a job at Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

You’ve been there for more than four decades.

 

I have. And the school’s changed a lot in those four decades. I was hired as a social studies teacher. And I loved teaching. I’d never been, in a private school before. I loved working in a religious environment. I loved working with the nuns. And I just loved working with the girls. I enjoyed still think of myself as a teacher, although I’ve been out of the classroom for about twenty years.

 

Are you Catholic?

 

No.

 

And not required to be, to be head of Sacred of Hearts?

 

Well, when I was appointed as head of school, it was not a factor. I think that my replacement will probably be required to be Catholic.

 

Did you aspire to be head of school?

 

No; No. What happens is in many Catholic schools, there are just fewer and fewer religious. So, the religious look to what we call the laity or lay people like myself to take over some of the positions. And at that time the sister that I replaced was going to be assigned to other places. And first, I went in as the vice principal. So, I was the vice principal for about, I’d say eight years. And then, finally, as the head of school. Now, there are lots of lay people that are in either as principals or heads of school, and it’s become quite common for the boards to require them to be Catholic.

 

Was it a topic of conversation, or a contention that you were not Catholic?

 

No. I’m very comfortable with it. It, certainly forces me to have a good team with me. We have, a fulltime campus minister who is a sister. The chair of our religion or theology department is a sister. So, I feel very comfortable.

 

Let’s talk about all-girls education.

 

Okay.

 

You’ve written a number of essays and articles about the subject. And you know, you’ve heard people say, Well, there’s no need for it anymore, girls should get used to the business and other environments where it’s gonna be—you know, you’re gonna be with the opposite sex. What do you say?

 

I think a lot of it’s personal. But I’ve spent a good portion of my career in an all-girls school. I attended an all-women’s college. I think that boys and girls learn differently. Not you know, girls don’t learn better, they don’t learn worse, but they definitely differently. Girls thrive in a collaborative, reflective experiential environment. And it just so happens in a girls school, and it’s the same in single gender for boys, that our teachers are trained to teach to those learning styles. And they thrive. They, we have huge numbers of our girls going into science, going into math, going into pre-engineering.

 

And you don’t think they would if there were boys in the school?

 

I think some of them would, but I think that those doors are opened to them. We stress it. You know, we emphasize it from the time they are in ninth grade that they need to check out these fields. And they feel very comfortable in math and science. A lot of it’s experiential today, a lot of reflective learning going on. Boys not so much experiential, because they have, especially during science, if you’re in physics, a lot of the things they do in childhood give them, sort of an edge when they start applying that to book learning. But a lot of the girls have not had those toys, they’ve not had the robotics, they’ve not had you know, how a bicycle works. So, they need a little more attention in those places.

I find parents today very involved with their kids’ education.

 

Too involved?

 

I’m not so sure too involved. I think that lots of parents understand that they are spending a lot of money. They’re spending a lot of the family budget for private schools, and they’re going to make sure that the girls and boys are getting a good education.

 

Lots of pressure on the school, but on the children as well.

 

Oh, it is. I think that high school should be a time for learning, but not a pressure cooker atmosphere.

 

And the job of an adolescent is to find a personal identity. They’re separating

 

Oh, yeah.

 

 

from their parents’ identity, and that must be—is that part of what you consider your job in the school, to help them find that?

 

I think especially if you’re dealing with girls. Because with girls the transition from adolescence and their personal identity journey certainly happens for the most part in high school. And they need attention, and they need adults catering to that, and helping them with it. The big advantage to all-girls schools is that it gives girls a time of their own to really develop confidence. To really develop confidence, to develop a sense of self-esteem. And if boys, but especially if girls can develop that, we don’t have to worry about the academics. Because once they’ve got the confidence, they can soar academically. So, I think it’s very much a part of our job.

 

Who would you say are some of your better known alums?

 

Oh the late Loyal Garner. We have quite a few performing artists. Noelani Cypriano, Cathy Foy, Mamo Howell.

 

Mm.

 

Cathy Lee is an up and coming designer in the State; she’s from Sacred Hearts. And then we have lots of lawyers, lots of doctors. Now, we’re getting more and more engineers. So they’re all over town.

 

 

Betty White credits her parents and her husband as the people who have had the most profound influence on shaping her life. Their emotional support combined with her own inner drive gave her the courage to leave Southwestern Virginia to see what the rest of the world had to offer. Now, she shapes the lives of other young women through the leadership and direction she sets at Sacred Hearts Academy so that they, too, will have confidence to set out and achieve their goals.

 

Mahalo to Betty White of Honolulu for sharing her life story with us, and thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

Close:

 

I think it was the broadcast journalist Barbara Walters who said, A woman can have it all, but not at the same time.

 

That’s right. Well, you’ve got to make, you’ve got to make concessions, as far as I’m concerned. In order to get the tasks done of the day, I very seldom will go shopping. But I usually get all my clothes online. Right? I love to cook every once in a while, but lots of times I don’t cook.

 

M-hm.

 

So, to save my time, I will go to Costco and re-plate it, and

 

M-hm.

 

nobody knows that I didn’t make it.

 

Except now.

 

Except now.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Clarissa Chun

 

Original air date: Tues., May 8, 2012

 

Long before winning an Olympic bronze medal in wrestling, Clarissa Chun started competing in judo at age 7. By the time she took up wrestling at Roosevelt High School, Clarissa was unfazed about grappling with both boys and girls. Clarissa talks to Leslie Wilcox about her experiences in what she calls a “fun but gruesome” sport — one that until recently faced an uncertain Olympic future.

 

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Transcript

 

Gearing up for that match, you would have thought I was crazy, ‘cause I was hitting myself, pulling my hair. I was like, no one’s gonna beat me up but myself. So, I just gotta go out there and compete and have fun doing it. I’m not gonna let her beat me up.

 

Wrestling is traditionally a man’s sport, but a woman from Hawaii is breaking down barriers with international success in the sport of female wrestling. Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

From a young age, Clarissa dreamed about competing in the Olympics, but not as a wrestler. Growing up on Oahu, Chun was a five – time national judo champion, and competed on her high school swim team. As fate would have it, women’s wrestling became a sanctioned sport in Hawaii high school athletics in 1998. Drawing on her judo background, Clarissa tried out for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu. It was a move that would alter the course of her life.

 

Really, it was my sophomore year, after swimming State tournament. I don’t know; I always thought that I could do more in swimming. But at four – eleven, I was just, ah, okay, not getting to where —

 

You didn’t have Michael Phelps sized feet or anything like that?

 

No, I didn’t have his —

 

Flippers.

 

Yeah. So, I was like, oh, I love my swimming team. It was really hard for me to be — I don’t know, ‘cause I’m competitive. I want to be better, I want to do more. And I had friends who did judo, and a lot of them were wrestlers, and come out for wrestling. And I was like, I’ll try it. And it was a nice transition, judo to —

 

Judo helped you a lot, I imagine.

 

Yeah; it helped me a lot. I remember not really learning — I learned takedowns and stuff, but never really used it. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I would just throw people. Then when I started, it was against guys. It was the first —

 

There wasn’t a girls wrestling team?

 

That was the first year they had girls wrestling, but it was just me and another girl, so we didn’t make a full lineup. And they allowed females to wrestle guys during dual meets.

 

What was it like joining the boys wrestling team?

 

It was all right. It was nothing to me, really, ‘cause I grew up doing judo.

 

It might have been new to the boys who wrestled.

 

Yeah; to the boys. To the boys, it was.

 

‘Cause either way, I can see a certain mindset where they’d say, one, I don’t want to beat a girl.

 

Yeah.

 

And two, I don’t want to be beaten by a girl.

 

Yeah. So, at first, I think there was hesitation for some of the guys on the team. But I mean, we trained every day together; they get over it real fast. [CHUCKLE]

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah. Then it’s like —

 

There wasn’t some lingering, Oh, why does it have to be around her?

 

Yeah. No, it was like, I had a great team, so I can’t complain. I can’t say that I had much struggle there.

 

No resistance?

 

Yeah. My team would get a kick out of it if I’d win. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause it’s like, yeah! [CHUCKLE] Poor guy and whatnot. And even still, I’ll see some of my old teammates, and they’re like, Oh, I bet those guys feel different now, like oh, it’s not so bad losing to a Olympian now. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, when you would face off with each other, did you do any psychological stuff?

 

No.

 

No? No trash talking?

 

No; I’m not good at stuff like that. I’m not.

 

It’s all straight – on competition?

 

Yeah. I don’t know if it comes from my judo background, or just my culture in general that it’s just, I’ve always respected my opponents. I never trash talk.

 

Throughout her long journey from Oahu to Beijing and to London, Clarissa Chun’s family has always been a huge influence in her life. She says that sibling rivalry with her older brother Shaun helped push her to compete in athletics at a young age.

 

Your mom and your dad have been so supportive of you. Do you get your competitive fire from them?

 

No; I don’t know where I get it from. [CHUCKLE] They’re so easygoing.   I mean, yeah, my dad’s super laid back, kinda softs – spoken kinda guy. And my mom’s complete opposite, very talkative. Maybe I get it from her. I don’t know. I probably get it from both in some way or another. But yeah, she’s the one that always goes and goes. She would be the one that would drop us off, pick us up and run all over the place.

 

Sort of a whatever it takes mindset, which is what an athlete has too.

 

Right; right.

 

You’ve mentioned your brother; three years older than you, Shaun.

 

M – hm.

 

What part has he played in your sports career? Because I believe athletically he did encourage you.

 

Oh, yeah.   It didn’t just start and stop at judo. Even growing up, when we were doing judo, he was bigger than me, he would always pick on me. We’d fight a lot.

 

Physically?

 

Physically and just play tricks on me. I don’t know, just be the big prankster brother that he was. [CHUCKLE] But yeah, and still to this day. Well, before I made the decision, when I went off to college, he was like, Why not take the scholarship and try wrestling? ‘Cause I was kind of at a crossroads. I’m like, Missouri? I don’t know. And he said, If you don’t like it, you can always come back and go judo or whatever route you want. And so he kinda helped guide me to that decision.

 

I heard somebody describe wrestling once. I think it was a collegiate level wrester saying, It’s the tactical manipulation of your opponent to take control, normally through pain.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Would you agree?

 

Yeah. When you’re on the mat competing, it may sound dirty to say that you want to cause pain to your opponent. But at that level, I feel like … I mean at that level, there’s so many different styles of wrestlers. You can be the tactical and strategic and fluid, you can be the brute and abrasive. I remember, I think, one time I was in Russia, and I felt like I got punched in the eye during my match. And I’m like, Whoa, where did that come from? Like, how? And I was just thrown off for a second. And it just got me off focus like that. And any time you can — not saying that I’ve ever punched anyone in the eye or anything during a match, but whatever her strategy was, it worked. In the wrestling world against females, it gets pretty intense sometimes.

 

You mean, when females oppose females?

 

Yeah. It almost seems worse, ‘cause it becomes kind like, claws come out, hair gets pulled. Which is why I chop my hair off. And I even got bit my first round at the Olympics.

 

What do people know you as, do you think? I mean, everyone has ways of pigeonholing or just have some kind of short description.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s yours?

 

Well, I’ve heard people say that I’m quick, I move fast. There’s a move that they like.

 

What’s it called?

 

I don’t even know what it’s called. Actually, I learned it off watching video from the Russians. The men Russian video. Yeah; so just playing around with that with a friend in practice.

 

What do you do?

 

I just attack with my legs, rather than my arms. ‘Cause it’s a little bit of judo in a sense, but it’s not really a judo technique. Most takedowns, people would expect that I would shoot with my arms, not with my legs.

 

So where are you kicking them?

 

Behind their leg, and I’m wrapping around them, and then bringing my arm behind to secure it in a sense. So, yeah, it’s a little funky, people would say.

 

So, you just mentioned the word funky. So, I’ve just got to ask you; it’s probably really trivial and unimportant. But I know I’ve met women who’ve said they would never consider going into the man’s sport of wrestling at the time.

 

Uh – huh.

 

Because of the stinky factor.

 

Yeah; it can get gross. [CHUCKLE]   The mats; yeah, it gets funky. And the smell, in each country or region, they have a certain funk to themselves too. But I don’t know, I guess it’s just one of those — it may bother us for a split second, like, Oh, gosh, that’s horrible.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know.

 

That’s another of those gruesome things.

 

Yeah. One of those gruesome things.

 

Clarissa Chun attended Missouri Valley College on a wrestling scholarship. In 2002, women’s wrestling became an official Olympic sport, and Chun set her sights on Olympic competition. In 2008, she qualified for Team USA and competed in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

 

I think a lot of folks in Hawaii know what it’s like when you have to go from JV to Varsity in high school, and then you decide if you’re gonna go collegiate, and a lot of people — No, I’m out of there, I’m not gonna perform at that level. And then, of course, you went beyond that.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s different about the Olympic level?

 

Oh …

 

The highest level of the sport.

 

Oh, man. I think … and in every aspect, there’s discipline. In high school, you had to be disciplined about schoolwork along with practice. Being at practice and giving it your all in practice. And it carried over into college. And then at the Olympic level, it was even more focused. This is what I do every day; I wake up, I train. Gotta make sure I eat right to fuel my body for practices, to recover from practices. And making sure I do all the right things, meaning sleeping at a decent time. When I was in high school, I was a terrible eater. I would eat all kinds of junk food; li hing mui, everything and anything. And I wasn’t really the greatest at sleeping. I’d get home late and sleep late, and wake up early ‘cause I live so far. I don’t know; at the Olympic level, especially the year before, it just seems the energy becomes more intense ‘cause everyone wants it. Everyone wants that spot. And for women’s wrestling, there’s only four.

 

Okay; you walked away from the 2008 Olympics empty – handed. You came in fifth.

 

I know; it was terrible.

 

But next time, you won the Bronze. Did you notice anything that allowed you intensify or do something different?

 

Differently; yeah. Well, in 2008, it was my first Olympics. But at the same time, when I lost in the semis, I couldn’t get over it. That match was done but I still kept thinking about that match. I was emotionally … I was on an emotional rollercoaster.

 

But you had lost before and gotten over losses.

 

Yeah.

 

But this was different?

 

‘Cause it was the Olympics. In 2008, I was like, I should be going for Gold. I could have done — I regretted not giving even a little bit more in my semifinals match. Then my coach told me, That’s in the past, fight for third. You’re still fighting for a medal. And so, I’d be upset that I wasn’t in the Gold Medal match, I’d be sad for myself that I wasn’t in the Gold match. I’d be angry and like, I’m gonna beat up the next person I gotta wrestle. So I was on a rollercoaster ride.

 

After her fifth – place finish in the 2008 Olympic Games, Clarissa Chun refocused her training beyond the physical aspects of wrestling. In 2012, she qualified again for Team USA and returned to the Olympic Games, this time in London.

 

And I remember before the 2012 Olympics, I sought out a sports psychologist consistently. I’ve worked with sports psychologists before in the past, but it was sporadic. It was more that I had to find my weaknesses, and then work on them. On and off the mat.

 

How do you do mental training? I want to learn some of that.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How do you do that?

 

Breathing techniques or concentration drills, or … let’s see, meditation.

 

And that’s all about controlling your thoughts.

 

Yeah.

 

So that they’re positive in terms of what you need to do.

 

M – hm; yup. Yup. So, it’s just like visualization. A lot of that.

 

What do you visualize?

 

Getting my hand raised.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Hearing the National Anthem.

 

So, it’s not this —

 

No. [CHUCKLE]

 

— boom, takedown.

 

Well, sometimes.

 

It’s more like, Hello, everyone.

 

Yeah. No, no, no.

 

Gold star winner.

 

No, no. [CHUCKLE] They just raise their hand.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Like brute style, right? Gladiator. [CHUCKLE] But sometimes it is technique. Feeling the mat, your surroundings, hearing he cheers and the crowd. It’s very detailed.

 

But you have to be able to do that when you need to.

 

Yeah. It’s kinda like zoning in, being in the moment. In 2012, when I lost, I felt that well, I gotta keep winning to … basically fight for my medal. My emotions were more focused. I contained emotions, as far as I didn’t go on a rollercoaster ride.

 

How could you do it the next Olympics, when you hadn’t done it the first one? What did you learn in between?

 

Just … letting it go, I guess. Letting that match go. I couldn’t let go of it in 2008; and ’12, I could. I just focused on the match in front of me. And preparing for my Bronze medal match, that one was tough, because it was the female that beat me in 2008 for the Bronze. So I was like, Oh … I had to be mentally tough, and physically tough.

 

I thought I read something about how at some point during that match or the series of matches, you looked at the podium and you remembered you didn’t get to go up there the last time.

 

Oh, yeah. It was my match against Poland, the girl who bit me. They were setting up the podium behind her.   And I had to beat her in order to go into the medal round.

 

I see.

 

So, her back was towards the podium, and I was facing it. So, I kinda passed her. I already had lost the first period to her, and before the second period I kinda glimpsed past her and I was like don’t let this slip through kinda thing. I want to get on there, and I’m so close. And that’s when I did my painful front headlock throw on her, [CHUCKLE] and then pinned her. And I was like, Yay! Okay; next. [CHUCKLE]

 

I understand you had quite a crowd from Hawaii cheering for you.

 

Yeah.

 

How many people came?

 

I think thirty – eight. Yeah.

 

Who were they?

 

My family. My mom, dad, brother, my judo family. So, my old judo sensei and my judo teammates, my high school friends. Even some of my swimming friends that I swam with at Rooselvelt came. My high school wrestling coach and his brother and his family came out. So, I was just very blessed to have such a good solid cheering crowd.

 

Absolutely.

 

M – hm; yeah.

 

 

Clarissa Chun has competed in a host of other national and international wrestling competitions beyond the Olympics. In 2012, she also won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. Over the years, the sport has taken a physical toll on her, but don’t expect this champion to tap out any time soon.

 

We sent a little questionnaire to you, just asking you for basic information before you came. And I was so amused by what you said about wrestling. You said it’s a fun, if gruesome sport.

 

Yeah.

 

Gruesome?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Are you talking about injuries?

 

Everything. Just training and injuries. I feel you’re lucky if you can walk away injury – free. Meaning, just come out with no injuries at all. Luckier if you can walk away without any surgery to be done. And I know some friends who’ve walked away from the sport without having to get surgeries, but injuries are —

 

So, you’ve had at least three surgeries.   Four?

 

Three on my shoulder, two on my knee.

 

Two on your knees.

 

One on my elbow. [CHUCKLE]

 

Were those breaks? What kind of injuries?

 

Two of them were cleanups, and the rest were tears.

 

Cleanup from what?

 

So, my elbow had bone spurs floating around. So, just go in, take those out. Knee was ACL, and then the cleanup was, just shaving of — it would get frayed and get locked up, and they would just clean the bone up.

 

Same shoulder?

 

Yeah. Well, three shoulder surgeries. So, there’s two on one side, and one on the other. And those were all tearing. Yeah.

 

You must be very good at handling pain.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Have you always had a high threshold for pain?

 

I think so. Yeah, I think so. That’s the only time my family gets concerned. Each time I get a surgery, they’re like, How much longer are you gonna do this? Are you sure you want to continue?

 

Athletes generally have short competitive careers. Now in her thirties, Clarissa Chun knows that the 2016 Olympic Games could be her last run at Olympic Gold.

 

And the third time around in the Olympics for you —

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I wonder if that means you’ll have further increase in control and awareness.

 

I hope so.

 

And ability to focus on just that.

 

Oh, yeah. I can’t wait for that moment to click. It’s like an everyday thing when I’m in training. Sports psychology is … mental training is just as crucial as physical training. It’s something that I practiced and trained every week.

 

Have you thought about what, after that?

 

Oh … I have. I’m just not sure. I even thought about that prior to making this journey to 2016. ‘Cause it was like, Oh, should I go into coaching? There’s this program in New York called Beat the Streets for inner city New York kids. Teach them wrestling. And there’s a wrestling club in New Jersey was well. I thought about that. I’ve had people come up to me and ask me if I want to be a coach or an assistant coach at a college program. I wish we had no expiration date on an athletic career.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I wish I could go ‘til the end of time. But it’s just one of those — I’m at my career in my life where I am like, the older age of competing.

 

In your early thirties.

 

Yeah. And I’ve even known some who competed in their late thirties.

 

You mentioned mixed martial arts a bit ago.

 

M – hm.

 

Which is pretty much anything goes.

 

Yeah.

 

Would you ever feel comfortable doing something like that?

 

I don’t know. I get offers, and I get asked a lot. ‘Cause a lot of my friends who were wrestlers are doing it now. A lot of the top guys who compete in MMA were top level wrestlers, and they try to get me to go to that side. [CHUCKLE] I call it the dark side. No, I’m just joking. [CHUCKLE]

 

But it has some appeal to you?

 

Yeah.

 

Because you like to compete.

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s anything goes.

 

Yeah.

 

You can bring out your whole arsenal.

 

Yeah. It’s funny, ‘cause when I talked to my mom and dad about it, and even my brother, but more my mom and dad, and the look on their face; they’re like, Ooh. ‘Cause that’s a whole kind of different beast to them. ‘Cause wrestling, there’s still rules.

 

Exactly.

 

In MMA, there’s rules, but a lot less rules. You’re getting kicked in the face, hit in the face, punched, whatever. You’re getting choked out, someone’s trying to rip your arms off, or break your knees, your ankles, whatever. And I mean, when I think about it that way, I’m like, Whoo! [CHUCKLE]

 

Especially when you see them making big body, tan – ta – ra before.

 

Yeah.

 

And they say, I’m gonna kill that guy.

 

Yeah.

 

You think, Wow, you know, actually, they could.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] They’re beasts, right?

 

Is there anything you regret giving up or sacrificing for this Olympic dream?

 

No. I enjoy every moment of the Olympics, from making the team to even after making the team. Or even after the Olympics is done. After my first Olympic experience, I was like, What winter sport can I do? [CHUCKLE] Because I want to go to every single Olympics, and I absolutely love the spirit of it. I love how each country can come together. I love how each sport can come together within each country. I don’t know, I just love everything about it.

 

Women’s freestyle wrestling Olympic Bronze Medalist Clarissa Chun recently signed with a new coach in the hopes of expanding her wrestling repertoire. When we talked with her, she was preparing to return to the U.S. mainland to begin another round of training. Expect to see Clarissa Chun go for the Gold in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mahalo to Clarissa Chun for sharing her story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I’m looking forward to the six o’clock morning practices sometimes. It’s just I’m ready for that routine, I’m ready to get back in shape and start doing what I love. I mean, I’m enjoying my time at home, but it’s just each day goes by, I think, How can I better myself for 2016?

 

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His name sparks images of pin-stripe suits and bloody violence. To this day, Americans are fascinated by this celebrity gangster. Was Al Capone a self-made American man, a ruthless killer – or both?

 

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