Hawai‘i

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. During a troubled childhood, stories functioned as a source of comfort. In adulthood, she founded the Hawai‘i International Film Festival. Throughout her multifaceted life, Jeannette has blazed her own trail, working with unwavering vision and passion.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 12, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 16, at 4:00 pm.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I used to go to high school crying, with a hand on my hand, where my mother had slapped me. That was me, going to school crying. And on Mother’s Day, wondering what they’re talking about. But I knew in my heart of hearts—and a lot of it was my faith, my Congregational church believing that something else was waiting for me, and I could do it.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko first took comfort in storytelling to escape her abusive mother. She continued to tell stories in different mediums, and in her role as founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has spent her entire life sharing and telling stories. Whether it be through children’s storytelling, television, stage plays, or film, Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. Hereniko is best known in Hawaiʻi as the founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, which has become one of the premier film festivals for showcasing Asian and Pacific films. She’s also gone on to be a filmmaker in her own right, producing the award-winning film, The Land Has Eyes, with her second husband, Vilsoni Hereniko. Jeannette says her childhood years were the hardest days of her life, but they also helped her develop her love of storytelling.

 

I consider myself an Oregonian because those first nineteen years of my life were very influential. The people there were independent people. They vote a lot; they vote on everything in Oregon. You really had to think. And I like that; I love politics. My father was a fireman, and a labor organizer for public employees. So, I was kind of, on his side, anyway, kind of political at an early age, and very interested in changing society and making it a better place. My mother, now I know, looking back, was mentally ill. But at the time, I didn’t know it. And it was a very, very difficult childhood. It was not a happy family.

 

How did you realize later that she was mentally ill?

 

I was emotionally and physically abused. You know, I was hit around, and told I was terrible and an awful person. And I really believed it.  I escaped a lot, and I escaped in stories, I escaped in making up my own fantasies about life. And I was determined not to live a life like I was brought up. And I think that gave me enormous drive. And like, when I was ten, I had my own radio show.

 

Ten?

 

On what radio channel?

 

On Public Radio.

 

On Public Radio?

 

In Portland.

 

What did you do at ten as a host?

 

It was called Tots and Teens, and I was a storyteller. And I told stories that I wrote, and I had my sister come and imitate animals to the stories.

 

I had my girlfriend play the piano. I’d give little reports on the news.

 

What gave you the confidence to do that?

 

Well, that’s kinda what I’m saying. Because my family was so screwy, I just kind of thought this other life at a very, very early age. I was giving children’s sermons in my church. I found people liked that, and I got a lot of feedback that was positive, which I didn’t get in my family.

 

You said your dad gave you inspiration for public affairs.

 

Right.

 

What was his role in the household?

 

Gone and apathetic, and leave it to Mom to do the work. And not terribly supportive. But never mind; he had that fireman outfit, and he came to my school on Fire Prevention Week, and told us the number to call if our house ever caught on fire. And I had a sign when he ran for city council up in my bedroom posted. So, he still inspired me, in spite of being kind of an absent, apathetic father.

 

Were there other children in the house?

 

There was my sister. And part of my mother’s illness really was to pit us against each other. So, we never did become close. And my sister died at an early age, in her forties, and that’s a huge regret that I never was able to be close to her. But on the saving side of all the family stuff, I had an incredible, strong grandmother on my mother’s side. And she was from Russia. She was Volga German; she migrated when the Communists came in and took over. They didn’t want any Volga Germans. They didn’t want any Jews, they didn’t want any Volga Germans, didn’t want any gays. And so, those people left, if they could. And my grandmother ran away from her family home at eighteen, and somehow made it to Ellis Island, and somehow made it to Seaside, Oregon. And in between, fell in love with another Volga German, Jacob Bartholoma. And uh, they bought cottages, little cottages to rent. That’s where my solace was. That’s where I spent my summers. My grandmother was a storyteller; she told me all the stories about Russia and German, and she cooked and she loved me. And so, it was in Seaside, Oregon that I really felt nurtured.

 

While still living in Oregon, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko struggled to make ends meet to put herself through college. At age nineteen, she felt there weren’t many career options open to her, so she quickly set her sights on marriage.

 

So, I worked two jobs, and I went to school. And I thought, what I’d really like to be, you know, is maybe a lawyer, but I can’t be a lawyer, there’s no women lawyers, and there weren’t any women going to law school. So, I’ll marry a lawyer. I was very self-determined, so I went to Willamette University to the law school, and stood down at the bottom of the steps and watched the guys come down the steps.  And one of them said to me, Hi, stranger. And I remembered he had been a guard at a booth where I was a hostess during the Oregon bicentennial. And three months later, we were married. How’s that for a story?

 

You were consciously looking for a husband?

 

I was consciously looking for a husband who was an attorney. Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Uh-huh.

 

But the marriage was not successful.

 

It was not successful, because we were so entirely different. He was a conservative Baptist Republican, and I was liberal Congregationalist Democrat.  But you know, there were good years. There were good years.

 

You had children together.

 

We had three beautiful, wonderful children. And we came to Hawaii together, you know, and I learned a lot about business from him. I learned a lot about law from him. And I really was close to his family. It was kind of a substitute family, and they were wonderful. So, not all black and dark.

 

What was it like breaking into Hawaii, when you didn’t know anybody, and probably didn’t have jobs either?

 

So, we moved May 20th. So, May 23rd was my birthday, and I wanted to go to this place called The Sty in Niu Valley.

 

I’ve heard of the Sty.

 

I remember that, in Niu Valley. And we walked into The Sty, and I heard the Sons of Hawaiʻi play.

 

M-hm.

 

And I started bursting into tears; I cried and cried, ‘cause the music just—it was Eddie’s voice. There was something very deep.

 

Eddie Kamae.

 

There was something in his voice so channeling something that touched everything inside my soul, with such storytelling like I’d never heard before. And I just knew this is where I wanted to live forever.

 

Before relocating to Hawaiʻi in 1975, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko worked as a professional children’s storyteller in Oregon. She even started a storytelling guild and children’s festival in Southern Oregon, and hoped to continue telling stories when she reached Hawaii.

 

Ray Okamoto was his name, and he was in charge of the Artists In Schools Program with the Department of Education. And before I came, he said, We’d like you to be a storyteller with the Artists In Schools Program in Hawaiʻi. So, I did. But it was part-time, and I needed to work a little more, ‘cause my husband was having a difficult time getting a job, even though he was an attorney, just breaking in. But I actually was having a great time. I was going around Waimanalo telling stories and everything. But I needed a little more money, ‘cause we had these three kids and everything. So, I went to educational television.

 

And that’s the DOE television.

 

That’s right.

 

Right.

 

That’s right. Anyway, they hired me as a production assistant, and I worked my way up as a producer and a writer. But I didn’t have a college degree. But it was that switch from storytelling, because when I was going around telling stories, there were all these incredible Hawaiians, kupuna. They knew the story, they knew the stories of the aina, and they knew the stories of the history. And that’s the kind of stories I love to tell. And I thought, it’s like picking flowers in someone else’s garden, this isn’t right for me to be doing this. But film, that’s another way. That’s another way to tell stories. And so, I quit being the storyteller in the schools, and devoted my time to educational television. But still, as an independent contractor, ‘cause I didn’t have a degree.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko would go on to earn a college degree from Chaminade University in Honolulu. In 1980, she started a new job in public relations at the East West Center, an educational and research institution on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her new job would soon lead her to the creation of Hawaiʻi’s premier cinematic event, the Hawaii International Film Festival.

 

Where I really wanted to work was the East West Center. And people would say, Well, why? And I said, ‘Cause I’m really interested in cross-cultural relations, and I’m really interested in bringing people together from Asia and the Pacific and the United States. Where do we meet, and where do we differ, and how do we negotiate those different. That’s always been a real strong interest in those questions. So, when they had an opening in the public relations department for a community relations director, I applied, and I was hired by Everett Kleinjans, who was the president at the time. And he directed me to think of three ideas that would bring the community closer together to the East West Center. And one of the ideas, why don’t we create a film festival, and why don’t we put the emphasis on Asia and Pacific films, made by Asians and Pacific Islanders, and have some from America. And why don’t we have an academic symposium where we talk about the difference and the similarities, and why don’t we have it free, and why don’t we take it to the neighbor islands, and why don’t we take tours all around and show these films with scholars, you know, and talk about these issues. He said, Oh, I just love that idea. You go for it. Of course, I’m not giving you any money, you have no budget, so you go raise the money. And I said, Fine, I like to raise money.

 

You like to raise money?

 

I do like to raise money.

 

You like to ask people for money?

 

Because here’s what I believe, and you know this. You bring people who have money, and a cause that they want, and they’re waiting for you, because they want to meet the artists, they want to be part of a bigger vision. I really believe that. And so, I like to put people together, I like to do that. So, I thought, I’ve got to have Jack Lord be for this, ‘cause he’s got money and he’s got a name. But I didn’t know him. So, I talked to Cobey Black, and she introduced me to him, and we just hit it off famously. And he wrote a check; five-oh-oh-oh, you know. First check we got. And then, we gotta have theaters, so who owns the theaters. The person in town was Art Gordon. Do you know Art?

 

Remember him.

 

One of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met in my life. And I went to him and explained this idea, that we had this theme of when strangers meet, and we wanted to have Asian films. And he said, You know what, it’s free, and you’re gonna have Asian films. And he loved Asian films, particularly Japanese films, which he’d shown a lot. He says, I’m giving you the Varsity Theater. So, that’s how we got it started, until six months in, a new president come to the Center. He didn’t like the idea of a film festival, at all, and asked me to stop.

 

This must be Victor Li.

 

Yeah; it was Victor Li, Victor Hao Li. But he really did not believe that the East West Center, with the mission as he saw it, included anything to do with film.

 

I see.

 

And he didn’t think anybody in public relations should be creating program, that that should be left to the scholars. So, it was legitimate policy differences. But, you know, it affected my life, ‘cause he told me to stop. And I said, You know what, it’s too late, ‘cause the tickets have been given out. So, he says, Well, just the first one, then. But the first one, the papers called. Maybe you called; I don’t know. Where were you? And there were lines around the block, and people were loving the festival. And he called me in the office and presented me with flowers. He said, You did it, this is great. But it’s gotta be small, it’s gotta be academic, and yeah, just keep it controlled, and you gotta raise all your money outside.

 

You didn’t keep it small and controlled, Jeannette.

 

Well, maybe that was my fault, you know. And maybe because of my background, I was used to people kind of on my back and telling me, No, no, no, you can’t do it. Maybe that’s why I did it.

 

Under the leadership of Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, and with an army of volunteers, the Hawaii International Film Festival grew, and eventually became an independent nonprofit organization, splitting off from the East West Center. Jeannette went through a divorce from her first husband, and tried to find balance in her new role as the festival director, single woman, and mother raising three children.

 

When one has an abusive parent … unfortunately, that that sometimes shows up in their own parenting. How was parenting for you?

 

Great question. You know, again, you have to ask my children. And I still ask them. And it drives them crazy. They say, Oh, Mom, stop asking that. I had three, and one of them was extremely difficult, and she is no longer with us. And you know, maybe there’s a gene there; I don’t know. It was kind of almost like reliving my mother’s story through my daughter. Except my daughter was much more bright and loving, and a wonderful parent herself. But the other two say that I was okay, but I know in reality that I was gone too much, with throwing myself into the film festival, as almost sort of an escape thing. And I regret that; I wish I’d spent more time with them. But they keep assuring me that I was a good mom, so I hope they’re right. And they turned out great.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko poured her passion into growing the Hawaii International Film Festival. After living as a single independent woman for over a decade, Jeannette says she has the Film Festival to thank for introducing her to the man who would become her second husband and soulmate.

 

We wanted scholars on our jury, and we wanted people from different Asia and Pacific places. And I didn’t have a lot of Pacific Islanders that knew a lot about film, so I asked my friend Jean Charlot, who was on the film selection committee with us, Where can I find a Pacific Islander? And he says, Well, you know, there’s this student that’s getting his PhD from Fiji, and he’s at the East West Center, and he’s smart, he’s written books, he’s written all kinds of plays; he’d be great on your jury. He didn’t actually say student; he just said this person. So, I thought that he was gonna be an old man after I read his resume. And so we had the jury. And he walked in and I thought, Oh, my, that’s an old man.

 

He was younger than you were; right?

 

Yeah. He was pretty cute, too. But he was married, so I left my hands off of him. But I made him my friend and put him on my film selection committee; okay? So, when he got divorced, I decided I would fix him up with some of my young girlfriends. Then, he finally said to me, I’d like to take you to dinner. And I thought, This is really strange. I mean, we’ve had lunch, we’d gone to meetings, but why would he want to take me to dinner? Oh, he wants to announce that he’s gonna marry this woman I’d fixed up. So, we went out to dinner and he says, Before I open this bottle of wine, I want to tell you that I’ve been in love with you for two years, but you’ve been so busy with the film festival. I’m imitating him.

 

And you haven’t even noticed. And I thought, Oh, my gosh. So, I said to him—he’s a Pacific Islander, and I’m Caucasian. Okay, I can get over that, but I’m much older than you are. And he said to me, I have been in love with women younger than me. Where does it say I can’t be in love with someone older than me? I have learned in love, age and race make no difference. Do you think you can do the same? And I thought, Here I am running this film festival, When Strangers Meet, and I haven’t dared to think like that. So, I said, Let’s give it a try. And that man’s name is Vilsoni Hereniko. And a year and a half after that dinner, we were married, and we’ve been married nineteen years.

 

And you have very similar interests.

 

Oh, yeah; we’re both storytellers. My my kids say, You finally found someone as crazy as you, Mom.

 

You know, we’re storytellers, we’re filmmakers. He’s written plays, I’m starting to write plays now.

 

In 1996, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko decided to walk away from the Hawaii International Film Festival, the organization that she created and to which she gave so much of her personal life.

 

And why did you choose to quit the film festival?

 

That’s the object of my first show called Wild Wisdom. And it was because my mother, who I’ve talked about quite a bit in the show got early Alzheimer’s. ‘Cause it ended that there was a gene from the Volga Germans that my family had, and fifty percent of those people, meaning me, Volga Germans, get early Alzheimer’s. I saw it on CNN News one night, and I realized my mother, my grandfather, my sister, and three of my cousins had all died of early Alzheimer’s. And I thought, What if I have that gene? So, I called the Alzheimer’s Association, and they didn’t know, there was no way to test. I thought, Man, I’ve just been giving my whole life to the film festival, a single woman, I don’t even know if I like apples and oranges. I’m quitting, and I’m gonna go around the world, and I’m just gonna enjoy my life, because I might lose my mind. Who knows? And that’s why I quit the film festival. But people didn’t know that at the time. So, I’ve been doing that; it was 1981 to ’96. So, that was long enough. Fifteen years. So, they did find out about a test, and I did take the test, and I don’t have that gene. I wouldn’t marry Vili until I knew that. And he told me; he said to me when we went in to get the results of that test, he said, I don’t care if you have it or not, I still want to marry you.

 

In the year 2000, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko stepped out of her comfort zone as someone who shares and promotes films to someone who creates films. She and her new husband, Vilsoni Hereniko, set out to make their first feature film, The Land Has Eyes, filmed on her spouse’s tiny home island of Rotuma, Fiji.

 

Yeah, we decided to make a feature film together. And he had a film in mind, a script in mind. And we took it to Buddhadev Das Gupta from Calcutta, who was on the jury the same year Vili was on, and a very, very dear friend. And he said, You can’t make that film; your first feature film must be your own life. You have to go fishing deep inside and write your own life story. That’s your first feature film. And Vili took that advice literally, and he threw that away, and he started writing his own life. And then, he got writer’s block, ‘cause it was getting very personal. And I said, Change it to a girl. So, Vili became Viki. And we made The Land Has Eyes. We were on the Island of Rotuma for three months to make it.

 

And you didn’t have a big budget, and you had villagers playing roles.

 

Yeah; it was wonderful.

 

And it was just very courageous.

 

Thank you.

 

It was a gamble; right?

 

Yeah.

 

And it’s a beautiful movie.

 

Oh, thank you. Yeah. Well, it was probably the uh, deepest experience. And talk about shattering illusions. That takes the cake; that did it. Because being married to him, and seeing him in Honolulu, and then to go back to his island, which I had not been to, where he’s the director and I’m the producer, and living in his family’s home. Yeah; it was the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of my life.

 

You know, I look at my life from where I am now, and I am so satisfied. I’m so happy with my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. And one reason is, a lot of my dreams have been realized. And I’m still dreaming, and I’m still realizing more dreams.

 

You’re still working; right?

 

I’m still working. But I just wanted to say that the secret has been what Joseph Campbell said. And that’s, follow your bliss, follow your passion. I really honestly believe that each one of us has been born with a very special, unique gift, and it’s our job in our lifetime to find out what that gift is, and to shine it as bright as we can, to treat it like a precious diamond. And you don’t have to do everything. Like, you know, I can’t sew, I can’t can fruits like so many of my Oregon friends can. But I can tell stories, and I know how to make a movie, and I know how to get things done, and I really love involving other people in projects. That’s my little diamond. We each have that diamond, and you’ve gotta find it and shine it, and give it away.

 

The film, The Land Has Eyes, produced by Jeannette Paulson Hereniko and directed by her husband Vilsoni Hereniko, debuted at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2004, and went on to win Best Film at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. At the time of this conversation in 2016, Jeannette had been out of the Film Festival spotlight for some years, but she continues to curate and distribute Asian and Pacific films to universities and libraries through a film distribution company called Alexander Street Press; and Jeannette and husband Vilsoni were setting out to make a new short film atop Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island. Mahalo to Jeannette Paulson Hereniko of Honolulu for sharing your story 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’m not afraid. When I stand before a crowd, I’m not afraid. Again, maybe it goes back to that childhood. That’s my home. Ten years old; you know, I was performing at ten, live audiences as well, and I’ve just never been afraid. Sometimes, it’s harder one-to-one.

 

[END]

 

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS
The Quietest Place on Earth

 

On the island of Maui, Haleakala rises 10,000 feet – nearly two miles – into the sky. The massive crater located at its summit carries the unique distinction of being “the quietest place on Earth.” The exquisite stillness of its stark volcanic landscape inspires a variety of experiences ranging from spiritual to philosophical. Featured are musical artist Keola Beamer, poet W.S. Merwin, cultural specialist Clifford Nae’ole, paniolo Wilfred Souza and others.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Burns: A Local Boy

 

In honor of the late Jim Burns, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2014.

 

Jim Burns’ father, John A. Burns, always thought of himself as a local boy. Jim, who grew up in Kailua and could easily break into Pidgin English, saw himself the same way. As Jim was growing up, he saw the respect that his father had for Hawai‘i’s immigrants, and learned that being a local boy was about more than just speaking Pidgin.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 5, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 9, at 4:00 pm.

 

Transcript

 

I’m told that your law clerks, when you were looking for a new one, of course, you checked all aspects of their background, but it was really important to you to find out where they went to high school.

 

Yeah; I started with that. You know, that gives me a picture of, you know, where they lived and who they are. And then, from there, I’d ask them other questions. But, yes. I think that’s true of all the people who lived—local boys, back in the old days. You know, Where you went high school? And if they said Kamehameha; okay, you got a picture of them. They said St. Louis, they said Punahou, they said Iolani, they said Farrington, Kaimuki, you’d get sort of a picture or flavor.

 

So, what did it say about you, that you went to St. Louis?

 

Well … that during school, I had to wear a tie.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know, that it was a little stricter operation than other places, little more controlled. That it was all boys, so you don’t know anything about girls.

 

Jim Burns has always called himself just a local boy. This, despite the lofty trappings of his career, rising to Chief Judge of the State Intermediate Court of Appeals. And he’s the son of one of the most consequential political leaders in Hawai‘i’s modern history, Governor John Burns. Jim Burns, 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. James Stanton Seishiro Burns, better known as Jim Burns, retired Chief Judge of the Hawai‘i Intermediate Court of Appeals, was born in Honolulu in 1937 to a father who was a police officer and a mother who was partially paralyzed by polio two years before Jim was conceived. It wasn’t until much later that Jim’s father, the late Governor John A. Burns, became a politician and the driving force that brought Democratic Party to power, changing Hawai‘i’s political landscape forever. It was apparent in Jim’s young life that there was something exception about his parents.

 

When people talk about when they were born, it’s you know, just a fact. I was born on this date. But your story of birth is huge. I mean, I’ve never heard such a dramatic birth story as yours. I’d love to hear it from you.

 

Well, I don’t remember it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I only know what they told me. Interesting story. My mother had two children, and then while she was pregnant with the third during the seventh month, she got polio. Then called infantile paralysis. And so, the baby was born, my brother, but he didn’t live long. And so, she was paralyzed at that time, from the neck, down, and real bad.

 

Now, this was 1935. But subsequently in 1936, she became pregnant with me., while she was paralyzed. And you know, I don’t know how much of the upper body then was paralyzed, but definitely from the lower body, she was paralyzed. And so, all the doctors told her to abort. And they said they wouldn’t treat her if she refused. And she said, No, I’m not going to abort. And so really, nobody wanted to treat her.

 

So, was she personally at risk? Is that why they wanted her to abort?

 

Yes; both of us were at risk. Yes. And she said, No, I won’t. Fortunately, my father knew a guy, a Japanese body expert, I think you’d call him. He was a jujitsu, judo master, and so, my father found him. And of course, the doctors didn’t want him to touch my mother, said he would kill her, you know, with what he was going to do. But no, my father went with him, and he took care of my mother during the pregnancy; all during the pregnancy. You know, she said, dunked her into bathwater. What was it … seaweed water and et cetera. Massaged her, stretched her. My mother said, It almost killed me, but every time I would scream, he’d say, Go ahead, scream some more.

 

Now, she was paralyzed. It’s indicating that she’s feeling pain, but would she feel pain?

 

Oh, yes.

 

Oh, she did feel pain?

 

Oh, gosh; yes. Yes. She just couldn’t move her body. But she could feel pain. Yes.

 

I see.

 

I never talked to my father about it, but I did talk to her about it. You know, why would you get pregnant while you were paralyzed? And she said, I wanted to show that I could continue to be a wife, you know, that I could be together with him. And being good Catholics, it happened.

 

And you were born perfect?

 

I was born healthy, almost eight pounds, full-term pregnancy. And delivered by a friend who didn’t deliver babies, because there was no doctor to deliver me. He was a doctor, but he was not a doctor who specialized in that particular business.

 

So, I notice that you have a Japanese middle name.

 

Yes, I do.

 

Is that because of the man who helped your mom deliver?

 

Yes. His name was Henry Seishiro Okazaki. Quite famous in the community. And after I was born, you know, my father talked to him, I guess, about, Hey, what can I do for you? I’ve gotta pay you whatever. And the man said, You call him Seishiro. And that’s all my father ever called me.

 

Jim Burns’ brother and sister were only a few years older than him, but by the time Jim came along, the family had gone through many changes. Jim’s father had become a police officer, and he had moved his family from Kalihi to the Windward side, Kailua, where Jim grew up.

 

So, you were the favored child, right, because you were the youngest, who’d come through so miraculously.

 

Well, that’s what my sister says. I’m not sure it’s true, but I guess I had a better life than she did, or my older brother did.

 

Was your father, who was known as very strict and sometimes punitive—

 

Yes.

 

You had it easier than the older kids?

 

Well, I don’t know how they had it, but I know that I had some whacks; some pretty good ones. So, he was very strict with me, also. But I think because I’m younger, he mellowed over the course of time. So, I think they caught it more than me, before he mellowed.

 

You know, when your father was governor, people said—and this was sometimes quoted in the papers—his nickname could be The Great Stone Face; he was very impassive and stern.

 

Yes.

 

What was he like as a father?

 

Same. Exactly. Yes; very. Not too many jokes.

 

They both sound like very strong people. I mean, did you feel like you had room to breathe around them?

 

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, you know, depending on what part of my life you’re talking about, I didn’t see him that often. I saw my mother much more than him, and my mother was much easier to deal with than he was.

 

And even your mother went away for a while for treatment; right?

 

When I was two years old, she went to the mainland for treatment, and she was there until Christmas of ’42. Actually should not have come back; she came back sooner than she should have. But she was so homesick.

 

Wow. And your dad was often gone as well.

 

Yes. So, I didn’t see her. You know, I wasn’t conscious of her when I was two years old, and I didn’t see her until I was four and a half.

 

Wow.

 

Or actually, let’s see. Christmas—I’m sorry; five and a half.

 

Five and a half.

 

Five and a half years old.

 

Do you remember seeing her at five and a half?

 

Well, I know that she came home. And we had been writing to her while she was gone. You know. I mean, I’m sure my penmanship was not so good in those days.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I would write notes to her.

 

Who took care of you?

 

Well, that’s a good question. I recall a lady from down the street, a good family friend, who used to take care of all of us. My father’s mother lived next door. But, lots of kids she took care of, and I remember her. And then, when we got older, I know my father got some gals from the detention home, the girls’ home, and they came and babysat. So, it was just whoever. And then, it was wartime.

 

Tell me about Pearl Harbor.

 

Okay. Well, let’s go back a ways. My father’s a policeman, and prior to the war, he’s in charge of espionage. He’s the chief of espionage in the police department. And I think the United States knew that it was going to get into a war with Japan. It had to, to get into the war in Europe. And so, I think about ’39, the chief asked my father to put together him and four guys, to go check with the Japanese community and find any signs of disloyalty. So, my father gathered together four other guys from the police department, three of whom were Japanese, and one was Hawaiian.

 

Did your dad get to pick?

 

Yes; he got to pick. So, he picked the four. And … interesting story. I always tell this story, and it’s true. Five people … remember Hawaii Five-O?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s where the five comes from. You know, that investigative unit. But anyway, so the five went out and checked all over the place, and came back and said, No, no signs of disloyalty whatsoever within the community.

 

We were at church Sunday morning, December 7th, 7:00 a.m. Church was finished, and we were just gonna start going to home. And we saw this … blast, explosions at what was then the Kaneohe Naval Air Station, which is now the Kaneohe Marine Station. And we could see planes and bombs, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you know, I’m young, I’m only four and a half years old, and all I know is that there’s a ruckus going on. But he knew what was going on. So, he rushed home, ran into the house, picked up the phone, called, and all I heard him was say, Oh, four-letter word. And out the door he went, and I didn’t see him for a long time. We didn’t see him for a long time.

 

Long time, meaning how long?

 

You know, I recall two, three weeks. But he was gone. And now, we were at home, we didn’t have my mother. You know, just had whoever was looking after us, and thinking that we’re going to be invaded. And then martial law came, and et cetera. We lived under that. And right next door, there was a military camp that they set up in the ironwood pine trees, which was interesting. So, part of my growing up was working with the soldiers, being with the soldiers. They were nice to us.

 

So, very unconventional entry to the world, and very unconventional upbringing.

 

M-hm; yeah. I would say so.

 

How do you think it affected you?

 

Well, it made me very independent; that’s for sure. You know, I didn’t have a lot of social contact, other than my brother, sister, and whoever else was around. So, I learned how to do my own thing.

 

I know you went to St. Louis. I think it was called college at the time.

 

St. Louis College.

 

And you lived in Kailua.

 

Yes.

 

So, Pali Road was there.

 

But it was the Old Pali Road.

 

So, it wasn’t that hairpin …

 

It was the Old Pali Road.

 

With the hairpin turn?

 

Yes.

 

How did you get to school?

 

That way. In the mornings, somebody took us. Either my father, or somebody. Lots of kids went to St. Louis, Sacred Hearts in those days from Kailua. So, somebody, whoever it was, took us to St. Louis.

 

How’d you get home?

 

Well, when I was younger, you know, somebody would pick us up; my father or somebody he got to pick us up. But as I got older, the bus went to Nuuanu, dropped us off. Those days, the buses had electrical lines, wires.

 

That’s right. They were trolleys.

 

Yes; trolleys.

 

More like trolleys.

 

So, Nuuanu was as far as they got.

 

And then, how did you get home from there?

 

Hitchhike.

 

Did you always find somebody to take you?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Who was it usually? What kind of person?

 

You know, all kinds of people; neighbors, friends, or just people. You know, Kailua was a small town, country town, and everybody kind of knew each other, friendly with each other. Different kinds of people. But there was one man; an interesting story. A guy named Charley Asada, and he drove the kerosene truck. And people say, Kerosene truck?

 

Yeah.

 

Well, in those days, the farmers between the Pali and Kailua, talking along the Koolaus, lots of Japanese farmers. And they didn’t have electricity, so their source of power was kerosene.

 

Oh …

 

And so, he would drive his kerosene truck, and he’d go fill up the tanks for all of these people. You know, different places, different days. And so, I went with him. And people say, Why did you do that? And I say, Well, number one, he was fun to be with; he was very educational, entertaining, et cetera. But number two, while he was filling up the tanks, guess what we were doing? We were eating. I mean, those people had good food.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, by the time I got home, I was full.

 

There was a time when your father left the police force to become a fulltime politician. And your mom started running a liquor store.

 

Well, yeah. Initially, he ran it. So, he bought a liquor store, and he was running it in Kailua. But then, he got so involved in politics. Now, we’re talking about ’46, ’47. And then, he ran in’48. And so then, my mother started running it. And we lived five blocks away, so we’re talking a lady in a wheelchair going to the liquor store. And sometimes somebody took her, sometimes she wheeled herself, and sometimes I pushed her.

 

And she basically took charge of the purchases and the ordering, and …

 

She was there all day. You know, I don’t know how she did it, but she did. And when I could, I went and helped. As I got older, I did more and more help. But, you know, we had shelves, and she couldn’t reach. So, the customer would just reach and take whatever they wanted, and … you know, then they would make their purchase.

 

I thought that was an interesting choice of a type of business, because hadn’t your father previously had a problem with alcohol, and he’d stopped? But then, he bought a liquor store.

 

Well, his father was an alcoholic, and then deserted the family. And so, he was a very angry man. I think my father grew up very, very angry and bothered. So, he was incorrigible when he was young. And in fact, so much so their mother couldn’t handle him, sent him off to Fort Leavenworth to live with an uncle. And when he came back, he bounced around and finally became a policeman. But while he was a policeman initially, in the 30s, he got into an accident and had liquor on his breath. Now, nobody said he was drunk, but he had liquor on his breath, and apparently, policemen weren’t supposed to do that. So, he was sanctioned for it. And I guess his mother sat him down, and eventually, he promised, Okay, I’m not gonna drink anymore.

 

And he did; he quit cold turkey at some point.

 

I never saw the man drink.

 

Amazing.

 

No.

 

And could handle the liquor store, no problem.

 

Yes. But he drank coffee [CHUCKLE] constantly. But, yes. And then, as I say, my mother ran the store, and they ran ‘til the early 50s. And then, Piggly Wiggly came to Kailua, and ran us out of business.

 

The old Piggly Wiggly. It was during Jim Burns’ high school years that his father, John Burns, started becoming politically active. It would be many years before John Burns would win an election, but through his organizing activities, the elder Burns was laying the groundwork for what would become major social change in Hawaii.

 

When you were a kid, here you are with a Japanese middle name. You’re going to St. Louis. And I bet you there weren’t many Caucasian boys at St. Louis.

 

Well, Caucasian; if you include Portuguese, there were plenty.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes. So, I don’t think they knew whether I was Portagee or Haole. I was just one of the local boys. I spoke Pidgin, and I associated with everybody.

 

Yeah; that’s true. If I hear you, and you’re talking with your St. Louis buddies, I would never know what race you are.

 

Yes; yes. So, yeah. No; we just mixed, and nobody ever said, Eh, you one Haole. The only difficulty I had was, my father was a loser as a politician.

 

In the beginning.

 

He lost from ’46 to ’56; ten years. I went to college before he won an election. So, it was all during my grade school and high school, he was a loser. And I used to catch heck for that.

 

Why did people mind that your dad was losing political battles?

 

Well, because he’d run for office, and he’d lose. And they would say, What the hell is your father doing, running for office? You know, losing. And in fact, even worse, they used to call him names. And I went home one time and I said, Daddy, what‘s a Communist? And he said, Why are you asking me that kind of question? I said, Well, that’s what my classmates say you are. And he never really answered the question. I had to go find out by myself.

 

So, all those years, his political aspirations and the ability he had in bringing people together, that was not a plus for you?

 

I wasn’t involved. No. All I knew is, he was involved with running for office or organizing the Democratic Party. And I think he was on the other side of most of the kids that I was hanging around with, and you know, they were all on the other side of the track. And so, he was sort of an outsider and everybody’s wondering, What’s he doing? Why is he over there? You know.

 

What do you mean, other side of the track?

 

Well, the Republicans were totally in charge. So, anybody who wasn’t Republican was on the other side of the track.

 

And it’s true; at that time, the leaders in Hawaii tended to be Republican and Caucasian. But your dad was Caucasian, but from Kalihi, and the son of a single mom who eked out an existence, and like you said, he was an angry young man who, I guess, knew something about street gangs growing up.

 

Well, yes. Number one, he grew up in Hawaii. Grew up in Kalihi; he was very much a local boy. Again, he went to St. Louis. So, I don’t think you would call him a Haole. Same as me.

 

Would he consider that fighting words?

 

Probably. Yes.

 

So, your dad really had a way different profile than any of the others. He was on the Democratic side.

 

Yes.

 

And he was from an impoverished background. 

 

From the streets. Yes; yes.

 

I know he wasn’t a man to sit you down for father-son talks. But did you get the sense of his passion for equal opportunity for everybody in a place that marginalized many ethnicities?

 

Oh, yes. I mean, I’d sit and listen when he had conversations with other people, and you know, I could get the sense of what he was talking about. And so, I didn’t have any difficulty understanding what was happening. I didn’t know that the Haole was in charge of everything, you know, but I did know that we couldn’t be members of Oahu Country Club. You know, there were certain things that I knew that they had, but we didn’t have. And I knew the difference between Punahou and St. Louis.

 

What is the difference?

 

Well, in those days, it was more the Haoles than St. Louis, which was more of the local people. I knew that difference.

 

So, you grew up with that sense of the local people are getting a bad shake, bad rap.

 

I don’t think I really realized it, other than through my father. You know. Why is this man so committed to doing what he’s doing? Why isn’t he out there working for the family, kind of thing. Other than that, I don’t think I thought about it.

 

And you knew it wasn’t getting him any traction while you were growing up, because he wasn’t winning elections.

 

Right; right. So, you know, I didn’t think about too much, but still, you’re wondering, Hm, why is he doing what he’s doing?

 

When your friends at school or anybody would criticize your dad or say things about him, did you feel proprietary and defensive, or how did that make you feel?

 

Just made me wonder. That’s all. I didn’t think they were fighting words. At St. Louis, every word was a fighting word, if you took it that way, you know, if you were insulted. Everybody talks stink about everybody, so I sort of got used to it, and I got to be pretty good at it myself. I think during the course of his growing up, and especially as a policeman, he got to realize what kind of society Hawaii was. And he got to realize that this bunch of White folks were totally in charge of this place, and nobody else had an opportunity or chance to do anything. He was at the police department one time, and this businessman, one of the Big Five people in control, picked up the phone and said, Governor, come to my office. And my father said, That’s kind of backwards. You know; Governor, come to my office? Isn’t the governor supposed to say, You come to—you know. But that’s the way it was; who was in charge, who was in control. And you know, and I guess he could see the prejudice against the local people; Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans. And he just eventually said, No, no, I’m gonna do something to change this. And he totally committed himself. So, he quit the police department. Which was sad, because he loved the police department. I say this to people; all his life, he was truly a cop. In his heart, he was a policeman. He loved it. And that’s part of the problem with his family. You know, policemen—it’s very tough on the family, because they go to work and they get to see what’s going on, then they come home and say, I don’t want you to be like that. You know, so they’re very strict on you.

 

And did you ever talk to your mom about your father’s political aspirations, and what was he doing?

 

Well, no, but I knew she was getting frustrated.

 

Because she was working at the liquor store, while he was organizing?

 

She knew that he was doing what he wanted to do, and she knew he was doing the right thing. So, I think she supported him in that way. But on the other hand, I’m sure she said, Hm, I wish I had a little more family life.

 

And so did you, no doubt?

 

Yeah; sort of. But, you know, I saw my father more, I think, than others. I used to caddy for him, and you know, I spent time with him in the car, listening to him, or time when he was running the liquor store. So, you know, I associated with him.

 

And your mom looked at his time away from the family as something that he just had to do, and she accepted it?

 

Yes. That was the kind of person she was. You know, same way she handled her paralysis; it was, That’s the deck of cards that they dealt me, and that’s what I’m gonna deal with. You know, and I’m not gonna agonize over it or worry about it.

 

And your dad was busy trying to change the world.

 

Yes. That, he was doing, and my mother put up with it.

 

Jim Burns was in college on the mainland by the time his father was finally elected to office as Hawaii’s Delegate to Congress in 1956. During his term, Hawaii became a State, and John Burns came home to run for Governor. He lost his first two tries, but finally won in 1962, well after Jim had finished college and law school. Mahalo to Jim Burns for sharing his childhood memories with us and what it was like to grow up with a father who sacrificed so much, including time with his family, for his social and political ideals for Hawaii. 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.

 

You noted that that’s you here.

 

Yes.

 

Cut off from view.

 

Yes.

 

And then, there’s another picture where you’re also cut off, and you’re wheeling your mom, and in a very important occasion.

 

That’s my day off from basic training to go attend the inauguration. And I’m in my uniform, and I’m behind her, and pushing her. And nobody had a clue who I was. They just thought I was a soldier pushing Mrs. Burns. The local paper said: Unidentified Soldier. They didn’t know that I was related to them.

 

 

Liʻa: The Legacy of a Hawaiian Man (1998)

 

This award-winning documentary celebrates the music and spirit of Sam Li‘a Kalainaina, a performer and composer shaped by his home in remote Waipi‘o Valley on Hawai‘i Island.

 




Those Who Came Before:

The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae (2009)

 

The Kamae’s final documentary recounts Eddie’s own journey of musical self-discovery, a journey that led him to some of the most well-respected gatekeepers of the Hawaiian Renaissance and grew into a 50-year pursuit of Hawaiian cultural and musical traditions.

 





Lahaina: Waves of Change (2007)

 

In 1999, Lahaina’s plantation era came to an end with the closing of the West Maui town’s Pioneer Mill, the beating heart of Lahaina’s sugar industry. This film documents the last harvest, the last cane burning and the final days of operation at the mill, revealing a town with great historical and sacred significance, as well as the persistence to thrive into the future.

 





The History of the Sons of Hawaii (2000)

 

Surveying 40 years of Hawai‘i’s rich musical traditions, this film tells the story of the Sons of Hawaii, the music group led by Eddie Kamae that helped launch the Hawaiian cultural renaissance.

 




Luther Kahekili Makekau:
A One Kine Hawaiian Man (1997)

 

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival, this film constructs a rich portrait of a colorful and controversial Hawaiian man. Born on Maui in 1890 during the reign of King Kalākaua, Luther Makekau was part philosopher and part outlaw, a chanter, singer and poet, as well as a fighter and a cattle rustler, known throughout the islands for both his passion and his rebellious nature.

 





NA MELE
Genoa Keawe & Family

NA MELE: Genoa Keawe & Family

 

The late Aunty Genoa Keawe, beloved for her aloha spirit and her legendary falsetto singing, was joined in this performance by her sons and grandchildren to kani ka pila in the old-time, good-fun family way. Aunty Genoa plays with sons Eric K. Keawe on guitar and vocals, Arthur Keawe on ukulele and vocals, and Gary Keawe Aiko on upright bass and vocals. Granddaughter Pomaika’i Keawe performs on ukulele and vocals. Two other granddaughters, Kawahineu’iokalani and Sanoe Keawe, provide hula artistry.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kent Keith

 

Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career. In every prominent position he’s held, he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. As President of Pacific Rim Christian University in Honolulu, he works to inspire those around him to live a life of faith, service and continued learning.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 29, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 2, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kent Keith Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Traditionally, men’s careers were like th—the search for the Holy Grail, and women’s careers um, were like knights-errant. The search for the Holy Grail uh, the idea being that you start at a profession or an organization, and went as far as you could go in search of the highest position you could get.

 

Men tended to move around as their career um, developed, and so, they would be changing locations. So, that disrupted the wife’s career.

 

And so, when they moved to a new location, the wife would look around and say, What needs doing, and can I do it, and can get a job doing that? So that, that was more like the knight errant—

 

–who went out each day to find someone who needed help, and then helped them. Um, I like that, because I think I’ve—I’ve been more on the knight errant side. You know, find something that is worth doing, and if you have the opportunity to do it, go in there an—and do your best.

 

Dr. Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career, holding diverse prominent positions in the Hawai’i community, from attorney with a blue-chip firm to State official to real estate developer to university president—of two universities. In every role, he says he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. Kent Keith 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. When Roosevelt High School grad Kent Marsteller Keith was a sophomore at Harvard University in 1968, he wrote a motivational guide for high school student leaders. A list of 10 life lessons such as, “People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.” “If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.” “The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.” Thirty-four years later he published these aphorisms in a best-selling book, “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments”, which has been translated into 17 languages and sold around the world. Today the President of Pacific Rim Christian University, Dr. Keith grew up in a traveling military family.

 

I was actually born in Brooklyn, New York. Um, and my dad was there doing public relations for the United States Marine Corps, and then he started being transferred around, so um, I grew up in a lot of places. Couple times in California, couple times in Virginia, I was in Nebraska when my dad was in the Korean War. Um, finally, he was transferred to Hawaii, and I stopped complaining. Uh—

 

What was it like, making all those changes? Do you think it helped make you better at getting to know people, or was it stifling?

 

You know, there—there are a lot of impacts, actually. Um, first of all, it was really educational, because every time he was transferred, it was from coast-to-coast, so we drove.

 

Oh …

 

And we’d spend a month exploring America. And so, by the time I was fourteen—arrived in Hawaii when I was fourteen, I’d already crossed the country nine times by car. And each time, we went a different way; national monuments, natural wonders, historic sites. So, it was very educational. It was also educational in learning that, you know, we are one country, and we have common beliefs and values, but we also have different subcultures. And so, you get a sense of, you know, within one nation, there area—there are differences. Um … it was—it was hard, because I was almost always the new kid in school. Uh, so you know, you have start making new friends, an—and by the time you’ve really made friends, you’re moving again, and you’re leaving them. Uh, and that—that sort of had a—ha—had an impact. But it had one benefit, which is that you—you didn’t bring any baggage. Nobody knew who you were before. So—

 

You could start again.

 

–you got—I got all these fresh starts when I was growing up. So, um, yeah, I think—I think … for us as a family, it just pulled us closer together, because we were our community. We were the people we relied on.

 

So, you didn’t complain every time your dad got transferred? Oh, no, not again; I gotta meet a whole bunch of new people, and—

 

No, actually, what happened was, after a while, I began building walls. I began saying, you know, why make friends if you’re gonna lose ‘em, you know, nine months later. And then, I figured out that didn’t make any sense; I still wanted to have friends, and I still wanted to connect with people. So, it’s all part of growing up, just figuring out, you know … things like, what does friendship mean, what does—what do relationships mean. And uh, so I mean, on—on balance, I think it had—had quite a bit of impact, and for me, I think it was positive.

 

It must have been tough. I mean, high school is particularly difficult to transfer into, and you were coming from the mainland—

 

M-hm.

 

–into Roosevelt High School, public school. What was that like at age fourteen?

 

Well, I had—I had an advantage.

 

Oh, you were at Stevenson.

 

I started at Stevenson. Yeah, so—

 

Okay.

 

–my ninth grade year at Stevenson—

 

Well, intermediate school is—

 

Yeah.

–is not any easier, I don’t think.

 

No; no, it wasn’t. Um, but it was a good school, and uh, I have friends that I—that—that I knew then, still today, more than fifty years later. Um, so that—that kind of got me um, uh, oriented, I guess you would say. And—

 

It was smaller than Roosevelt.

 

M-hm.

 

That’s one thing.

 

Yeah. And then—and then, crossed over to Roosevelt for sophomore, junior, and senior year.

 

And somehow, you got elected student body president your last year at Roosevelt?

 

Yeah. Actually, I—I—I was student body vice president uh, junior year, and then student body president my senior year. You know—you know what I think? I think they—they—th … in terms of the ethnic makeup, uh, there weren’t that many haoles at—at Roosevelt. Um, but I think that people figured, well, I—I would work hard. And so, yeah, let’s let him be the—the student body president.

 

You were in many different school environments. What was it like?

 

Um, you know, th—the—the most interesting environments really was—was getting a sense of what it was like to be a minority. And my first experience that I remember was in eighth grade in Rhode Island, when the school was mostly African American. Um, and then coming to Hawaii, an—and realizing, you know, we can—we can work together, we—I was in lots of activities, and that really helped. Got into student government, I was in the band, I was in different clubs, and so on. And so, if you focus on doing things together, you focus on, you know, what do we want to achieve, um, a lot of the things don’t matter, and you can belong, everybody can belong—

Mm.

 

–no matter where they’re from. So, I think the extracurricular program is what really helped me the most. It wasn’t—

 

Mm.

 

–so much what happened in the classroom.

 

Did your father and mother give you advice about breaking into new schools and new communities?

 

What I remember uh, was that my family wanted us to behave they wanted—the way they wanted us to behave. Um, and we were a little bit different. Um, we had chores. And if the other kids were out playing, that’s fine. You’d have your time to play, but right now, you need to mow the lawn, uh, or you need to pull weeds. You know. So, the idea was, it’s—it’s who we think we are, you know, what our values are and what we think a family means. I mean, we’re all gonna be home at dinner, we’re gonna talk about what’s happening. Um, and so, the worst argument I could make as a kid about doing something was, everybody else is doing it. Uh, that was not an acceptable—

 

M-hm.

 

–argument. That didn’t mean anything in our family. Um, the idea was, well, you know, what’s worth doing and what’s balanced, an—and are you helping out with the family, and you know, are you learning what you need to learn.

 

As the kid of an Army officer, how did that affect you?

 

My dad was really, really committed. He was—he was a wonderful example of what it meant to be, you know, focused on duty, and you know, integrity, and loyalty. Um, I—uh, I—I knew that he loved us, and I knew that he loved people. His career, though, was about self-discipline an—and about getting a job done. An—and so, he modeled a lot of values. Um, he also pushed us really hard as—as kids to be everything we could be. No particular goal or job, just the best you would be at whatever you decided to do. And uh, he was an overachiever. I mean, he—he went for a hundred and fifty percent. So, you know, I figured later in life I could slack off and just go for a hundred percent.

 

What was your mom like?

 

She was there after school when we came home. We could share what our day was like, she gave us advice. Um, you know, she—she kept us um, focused on the things we needed to do. Um, she was a little more forgiving than my dad.

 

So, you’d go to her first; right?

 

That’s—that’s right.

 

Well, that was the joke. We’d come home, you know, we—we’d tell Mom how we felt, and then Dad would come home, and we’d have to intellectualize it for him.

 

After graduating from Roosevelt High in Honolulu, Kent Keith was off to the East Coast and Harvard University. There, at age 19, he came out with a list of 10 thoughts that he called the Paradoxical Commandments. This thought-provoking list traveled far and wide, even getting the notice of a woman who became a modern saint.

 

I continued to—to work with high school student leaders. But it was the 60s, so you know, a lot of conflict—uh, conflict and confrontation, uh, turmoil. And yet, a lot of idealism and a lot of hope that somehow, we could make the world uh, a better place. So, what was um, disappointing to me was seeing so many young people go out in the world to bring about change, and then seeing them come back much too quickly because the change they—they wanted wasn’t achieved, and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. So, I—I had a couple of major messages for ‘em. I was traveling around the country speaking, an—an—and working at high schools and student council conventions. I said, Well, first of all, you gotta love people, because that’s one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people, and with the process, until change is achieved, ‘cause it usually takes time. It could take a lot of time. And secondly, I said, you know, if you go out there and do what you believe is right and good and true, um, you—you’re gonna get a lot of meaning. I mean, that should give you a lot of meaning and satisfaction. And—and if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. The meaning—

 

M-hm.

 

–should be enough. People appreciate you, that’s fine. If they don’t, you’re okay, you still got the meaning, that should keep you energized. So, I decided to write a booklet for them. Took me a long time to decide whether to write one at all, uh, ‘cause I figured well, people know this, and you know, it’s already been said. But I started writing this booklet on how to bring about change by working together. And one chapter was about love, about brotherly love they called it then, about caring about people. And it talked about—about this issue of meaning. In order to get across my point about meaning, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. So, each one starts with a statement of adversity, but it’s followed by the positive commandment to do it anyway. So, people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. So, you start with a statement of adversity, you go into the positive commandment. And they’re meant to be examples of an attitude. I mean, I wrote ten of them, because I wanted to call them commandments, and there was a precedent for ten.

 

M-hm.

 

So, I thought I’d stick with ten. But they—they weren’t meant to cover everything that happens in life, just an attitude toward what happens in life. And uh, I just put it in that booklet, little sixty-five-page booklet, it was just on one page, and we sold twenty-five or thirty thousand copies around the United States, which was a pretty big deal. That was—that was quite a bit. And then, I went on with my life, and literally for thirty years, had no idea what was happening to them. Uh, what I learned later was, people were lifting The Paradoxical Commandments out of that little booklet, and they were putting them up on their walls and on their refrigerator doors, and they got into books, and they were in commencement speeches, and they traveled and traveled. And um … in 1997, uh, I was at my Rotary Club meeting here in Honolulu, and you know, service clubs often begin with a poem or a prayer or—

 

M-hm.

 

–thought for the day. And so, my fellow Rotarian stood up at the beginning of the meeting, and he said, um, Mother Teresa passed two weeks ago, and I’d like to read a poem that she wrote. So, I kind of bowed my head to listen to this—this poem, and what I heard him read was eight of the original Ten Paradoxical Commandments, exactly as I’d written them. I was like, whoa, you know, I recognize them.

 

M-hm.

 

You know, I could sort of felt the hair rising on the back of my neck, you know, like wow. Um, so I went up to him afterwards, and I said, You know, that piece that you read, where did you get it? He said, Isn’t it wonderful?

I really didn’t know what to say, but I said, Well, um, actually, I wrote it.

And then, he gave me uh, a really strange look. He didn’t say anything—

 

Like you’re a demented guy; right?

 

Exactly; delusional megalomaniac.

 

Claiming you’d written something by Mother Teresa; how dare you? Uh, and I said, But—but where did you get it? And he said, Well, uh, I don’t know, it was in a book about Mother Teresa. Couldn’t remember the title. So, I went to Borders Bookstore, and there was a whole shelf of books about Mother Teresa. So, I just started with the first book and went through every page, left to right, all the way through, and finally found it on the last page before the appendix in a—in a book called Mother Teresa, A Simple Path. And it had been rearranged to look like a poem. I don’t call it a poem, actually. I just—

 

It was a list. And it had been retitled, Anyway, which made sense, ‘cause each one ends with the word, anyway. Um … and it didn’t say Mother Teresa had written it. It said: A sign on the wall at Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta. And that—that just really hit me, um, because of my respect for Mother Teresa, because of the idea that it was in an orphanage. So, I’m standing there in the bookstore; I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want to jump up and down, I wasn’t sure what to do. Um, but I decided if I did all those things, I might get arrested, so I better be calm. But um, yeah, that—

 

You should have said, do it anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

That—that had a really big impact on me. I—I took that as a real message. So, I started speaking and writing about them again for the first time in thirty years.

 

Now, tell me what—you say that people tend to know this stuff, anyway. I don’t think we really do.

 

Mm.

 

I mean, we may know it, you know, tangentially, but people don’t put these things together sometimes. So—

 

Yeah.

 

So, the fact that you’ve put them together, and they resonate so much; how did you learn all of that so early?

 

Yeah. Well, I’ve just been—I’ve been—I’ve been very blessed. I mean, there were two major sources um, behind this. One was just my family. I mean, I grew up in a family that lived that way. An—and so, I—I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments, I showed the manuscript to my—my dad, for example, and I remember him looking at ‘em and going, Uh-huh, yup, we know this, nice of you to write it down. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

–my parents, my aunts, my uncles … they did it anyway. They—they were focused on loving people, and helping people, an—and doing what’s right, an—and they were not after power, wealth, and fame. They—they did what was meaningful.

 

Can you remember some of the incidents that might have caused you to pluck out those particular ten—

 

Yes.

 

–items?

 

Yes. Um, well, if you do good, people accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Um, one of the things that happened at Roosevelt High School when I was a sophomore, um, was that the seniors who were leading the student government wanted to eliminate uh, the representative assembly. That would be uh, the equivalent of eliminate—eliminating Congress. I’m sure there were people—people would be interested in doing that nowadays.

 

But—but uh, but uh, the whole idea of student government is for people to learn how to be citizens, to work together. And so, that would be like eliminating sixty students from—from student government. So, I was against it. Um, and so, um, I stood up an—an—and said so, and turned out to be the only person in a school of about twenty-one hundred who was willing to oppose it. And some of the seniors uh … were—were pretty upset with me for doing that. Um, but gradually, you know, I kept talking about it, what are we doing, why are we doing it that way, what are the benefits, and ended up with a schoolwide debate in which we argued the issue. And it went to a vote, and the idea of eliminating the representative assembly was—was rejected, uh, fortunately. Well, then I was accused of having done all that just to become popular, so I could become student body president. So, I was like, oh, wow, you know, I just did, I stood up against the so-called power structure, I was kind of, you know, treated badly by—by the—the big men and women on campus, finally the message got through, um, the movement I started was successful, and then they turn around and accuse me of just having done it out of some kind of crass political, you know, um, opportunism. So, that was one. Um, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Um, that came from a real experience that occurred after I graduated from high school. Uh, I went work at a uh, student council workshop in Indiana. Um, we had started uh, a high school student leadership institute in Hawaii. Uh, a bunch of us student body presidents got together and did that in the spring of 1966. So, I’d been at the uh, Indiana workshop uh, to learn how that’s done before starting uh, our own. And uh, so, you know, I was—I was young, and they—they invited me back, and um, it was the 60s, and they said, Well, we would like you to speak to our students, but we don’t want you to attack the establishment. Um … so, um, so I didn’t. I attacked the students. Uh, I was looking at three hundred students who were gonna be student council leaders in Indiana and other states the next year and I said, As far as I can tell, you’re a hoax, you’re a fraud. You don’t care about your fellow students; you just want to get elected to put it on your college application form. You’re just gonna hold parties for yourselves. You know, you’re really—you’re really not making a difference in your schools, and you don’t plan to. But you could. You could actually reach out, you could connect, you could find out what students really need, you could—you could create it or you could lobby for it, and you could really change lives. Even just saying hello to some of the students in your schools would make a difference in their lives. So, that was kind of breaking through the bubble, and the students loved it. It’s like, okay, let’s talk about what’s really happening. And they came down, and they lifted me up on their shoulders. And I was a lot lighter then, actually.

 

Uh, lifted me up on their shoulders, took me outside, and I had one of the most exciting discussions I’ve ever had in my life about we didn’t have to have a student council just to decide the color of the spring prom, or something.

 

We could actually be human beings who connect with human beings, and make the school a better place. So, gradually, we—students drifted off to—to go to their—it was night—nighttime, they drifted off to go back to their—their rooms. This was at—held at a university campus. And suddenly, I realized that there were four men standing around me. One of them was the director of the workshop, and he announced that I was fired, I would be leaving immediately. They marched me to my room, wouldn’t allow me to talk to anyone, wouldn’t allow me to call anyone, they locked the door behind me, said You’re going to pack now. I packed, they marched me to the parking lot, they put me into a car, they wouldn’t even turn on the headlights, they didn’t want to attract attention. Drove me uh, twenty miles from campus and dropped me off at a bus stop in the middle of a cornfield at eight-thirty at night. Um, they’d done their research; they realized a Greyhound bus was coming. And I caught it. Um, but I’m sitting there watching the headlights of the cars go by, uh, saying, uh, Well, I told the truth, they understood it, something good can happen, but you know, paid the price. And I decided I’d do it again. You know, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank, anyway.

 

After graduating from Harvard, Kent Keith went on to earn a master of arts degree at Oxford University.   Completing that, he spent a year studying in Japan, where he met his hapa-haole wife, Elizabeth. She became his teacher outside the classroom.

 

Her father was uh, uh, Swedish-American, her mother is Japanese. Uh, he was an engineer working for General Electric. And they had a little apartment building; their family lived on the first floor, and then they had outside staircases going to two more floors. And um, so um, I—I rented a room, and uh, I studied. And I studied—the Japanese language is—is challenging. And uh, after a while, my—Mrs. Carlson, who became my mother-in-law, uh, was worried about this—this foreign haole guy who was upstairs studying all the time. We gotta get him out to see Japan. So, she started inviting me down to dinner, and invited me out on a few family excursion.

 

And then, you invited out her daughter.

 

That’s exactly what happened.

 

How long have you been married now?

 

We’ve been married forty years.

 

She told you some things early on, very frankly, that shifted your perspective.

And you changed; they were hard to hear.

 

Yes. Um, yeah, I was very fortunate that she was willing-first of all, it was interesting. This was one of the only times that the different cultural backgrounds really came up. Uh, for example, um, you know, my parents were born and raised in Nebraska, we want to be polite, but we pretty much—we’re direct, we pretty much say what we want to say, and that’s what we mean. Uh, my wife Elizabeth grew up in Japan, it’s more indirect, you don’t say exactly what you mean, people are supposed to infer it. And so, I would say something, and she’d read between the lines, but I didn’t mean for her to read between the lines. She’d say something, and I wouldn’t read between the lines, but I was supposed to. So, um, we had to learn a little bit about each other. But th—the gift she gave to me was to give me honest and loving feedback about how my behavior was affecting her. And you know, I thought, well, I’m a pretty nice person, and I love her, and I don’t mean—you know, don’t want to cause her any problems. Um, but when I was, I needed to know, and that was really uncomfortable. But when she did tell me, I thought about it and reflected on it, an—and I was able to change in ways that—that uh, strengthened the relationship.

 

You became more intentional, then.

 

Yeah. Yeah, more conscious of what I was saying and doing, and how that—how that impacted her, an—and how that impacted others. So, um, I’m still learning. Um—

–and I’m grateful that she’s still teaching.

 

The couple has three internationally adopted children.

 

After returning to Honolulu and earning a law degree at the University of Hawai’i’s William S. Richardson School of Law, Kent Keith set out on his career.

 

I’ve jumped around. I’ve done different things, each of which was very meaningful to me, but it wasn’t a standard career.

 

It was definitely not a straight line.

 

No.

 

And the positions you’ve held often don’t really compute one to another.

 

Not—not directly. I mean, um, so I started out as—as a lawyer, and um, learned a lot, um, no regrets at all. Um, but decided that—that that wasn’t really what I was born to do. Uh, it’s really important to understand, because America runs on law an—and litigation, unfortunately. Um, so I was really attracted to—to job creation and economic development. I think having a job is really important; it’s—it’s a part of—of one’s dignity, of course, taking care of yourself and your—and your family, participating in society. Uh, I think having—I think work can be a really meaningful part of one’s life. And so, having more jobs and having a variety of jobs, I think is very important. So, I went into economic development. I was very fortunate to work for Hideto Kono and for uh, Governor–George Ariyoshi in that area. Well, my—my period of—of service ended when the Governor’s term was up. And then um, Bill Mills uh, from Oceanic Properties, Castle and Cooke, said, Well, how would you like to do it in the real world, not just talk about it in government. And so—so, he said, Why don’t you come in to—to Oceanic Properties. And they uh, gave me the portfolio to start developing the Mililani Technology Park. So, like here’s twenty million dollars, get the first phase going. And that was really meaningful, because in the next few years, we were able to put in infrastructure and build the first two buildings, and start attracting high tech companies. Again, jobs, a variety of jobs. Um, I was happy doing that, when um, I got a call from a regent at—at Chaminade University um, saying, How would you like to be president? And I said, Oh, gee, that’s really—really nice of you, but I’m happy where I am, um, uh, thank you, but no thank you. Um, that was a Friday. He called back on Monday and said, You can’t just say no.

You—you’ve gotta go to lunch and listen. I said, Oh, sure, I’ll do that. And I went to lunch, and two weeks later, I was the president of Chaminade University.

 

What was the next stop?

 

Well, actually, that’s when I became uh, the fulltime unemployed graduate student with a wife and three kids. So—so, one week, I’m president of a university. Next week, I’m in uh, a dormitory at USC in Los Angeles, um, with a 17-year-old roommate. And I’m willing to certify he was the most disappointed freshman in the history of higher education.

 

Uh, he traveled all the way from Virginia to California for freedom, and they gave him a roommate older than his father.

 

But we got along really well, ‘cause I wasn’t his father. I could just be his friend. Um, no, so I—I really—I love learning. I love ideas, I love applying ideas to try to make things better. And this idea of going to school and then applying what you learn, and then going to school and applying what you learn, um, that’s been kind of the pattern in my life, as well. An—and I like that very much, an—and very fortunate I was able to do that.

 

Your life philosophy, which you developed early on and is evidenced by The Paradoxical Commandments, is a lot about creative tension, and—

–dealing with a level of stress.

 

The Paradoxical Commandments focus on what we control. I mean, there are all kinds of external events we don’t control. I mean, as individuals, we don’t control uh, the world economy, world population growth, natural disasters, all kind of things. We work hard, we prepare, we seize opportunities, but there’s all kinds of things we don’t control. What we do control is our—is our inner lives, our spiritual lives. And you and I get to decide who we’re gonna be, and how we’re gonna live. And we can live our faith, and we can live our values, and we—we can be close to our family and friends, and—and we can do what we know is right, and good, and true, no matter what. I mean, absolutely no matter what. That’s in our control. So, that’s where people have been finding meaning, and that’s always available, ‘cause it’s about us, it’s about how we live our values.

 

At the time of our conversation in January 2017, Dr. Kent Keith is President of Pacific Rim Christian University, which shares space with New Hope Church in Kalihi Kai. It’s the only accredited Hawaii-based Protestant university, dedicated to training students in servant leadership. Dr. Keith is the only person we know, to serve as President of two Hawai`i universities, the other being Chaminade.

 

Mahalo to Dr. Kent Keith of Mānoa, for sharing his inspired life of faith, learning and service, and his teenage words of wisdom that have resonated with people around the world. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai’i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

Are there any of the commandments that you wrote that mean more to you today, than when you wrote them?

 

Yeah. So, um, you know, being in college in the 60s, uh, was a very political environment. So—so the ones that I—I think I was more focused on were, you know, The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women, with the smallest minds; think big, anyway. Or people, you know, favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs; fight for a few underdogs, anyway. The ones that were sort of more political, more about social change. Um, now, uh, it’s the first one. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered; love them, anyway. I think—I think unconditional love is what holds our families together, holds our communities together, and you know, we don’t have to approve of everything that other people do, we don’t have to agree with everything other people do; we can still love them, and uh, that’s by far the most important one to me now.

 

[END]

 

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