Kaimuki

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
Sean Priester

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Sean Priester

 

Original air date: Tues., July 19, 2011

 

Creating Great Food while Making a Difference in the Community

 

This week on Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks story with Sean Priester, executive chef and owner of Soul Café in Kaimuki. From his childhood in a military family, Sean learned to respect the communities where life and duty led them. With this mindset, paired with his culinary talent, Sean launched Soul Café, where he demonstrates how food can nurture community and supports others in overcoming personal adversity.

 

Among his volunteer work is a partnership with Next Step Shelter, where he prepares food for the homeless. Sean also opens up about his past internal struggles, which manifested as drug and alcohol addiction, beginning in his college years at North Carolina State. Fifteen years later, Sean talks about overcoming his vices and fears, and helping others do the same through the power of food.

 

Sean Priester Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Food is powerful, and it brings people together, and it’s a call to action. Put some food on the table, and people are gonna come running. Chefs have that, they have that power. It’s sort of like you use the skills that you have, and use the attention and notoriety that you have, and if you can use it to benefit to others, then give it a shot.

 

We’ve seen many examples of chefs working for the good of the community, especially here in Hawaii. But how about someone who started out with a larger mission of being responsible to the community, then along the way, became a chef? Next on Long Story Short, you’ll meet Sean Priester, a chef with true soul.

 

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

 

Aloha. I’m Leslie Wilcox. If you could craft the perfect chef, what ingredients would you include? Well, maybe they’re well-traveled, influenced by many cultures. They should have passion for the food they cook, and the people they feed. They should understand that food can nurture community, and maybe it helps to have strength from overcoming personal obstacles. You’ll find all these ingredients in Sean Priester, executive chef and owner of Soul Café, in Kaimuki.

 

I understand you grew up all over the world.

 

Right. Well, I was born in Atlanta, and six months after I was born, we moved to Belgium; Brussels, Belgium. And that’s where life began for me.

 

Tell me about your parents.

 

Dad was in the Army for twenty years, he was a master sergeant in the Army. Mom’s been a schoolteacher all her life. And they were wonderful. I think I had a wonderful upbringing.

 

Were they protective?

 

Protective. Dad was always conscious of me being independent and being able to take care of myself. Mom, she was a protective mom, nurturing mom.

 

Did your parents sit you down to tell you life lessons, or how’d you learn from them things that matter?

 

I didn’t have any really life lesson talks until I was in my teens. But just because we were a military family and just traveling so much, and being placed in these different environments so frequently, it really just gave us opportunities to adapt and cope with new friendships, and losing friendships, and being in uncomfortable environments.

 

What are the other places you lived as a child growing up?

 

Child growing up, we moved to Cleveland, Ohio. I lived in Monterey, California, lived in Minneapolis. Savannah, Georgia was another place that we lived in, Munich, Germany. Ended up in, Fayetteville and Raleigh, North Carolina just before coming to Hawaii.

 

What’s the biggest payoff, you think, of all those military moves? Is there an experience in your life where you think, That really helped me, right there?

 

Wow; that’s a very specific question, I would say. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, in general.

 

I’d say it just really made me aware of my environment, and made me want to really get to the core of people’s existence wherever I was, in order for me to feel comfortable and in order for me to integrate and just be on an even playing field with the rest of the community.

 

You’d try to connect quickly.

 

Tried to connect quickly. Exactly.

 

What did you choose to study at college, and where’d you go?

 

I went to NC State. I chose materials engineering. Sounded really good on paper. Through the process of being independent and on my own, I didn’t find that the curriculum sort of fit into what my goals were. And I really was seeking out a way that I could benefit society in a way that would be uh, a bit more powerful or more upfront, I guess you would say. Just kept looking for something that suited me, and I ended up in this course called Conservation of Natural Resources, which you would call ecology, and very young in its stages, as far as the course of study. And it seemed like a good way to contribute by working on solutions on how to protect the planet and protect our natural resources.

 

What’d you do after college?

 

After college, my dad had retired from the military and moved to California. So I ended up in California as well after leaving NC State. And I went into this organization called The PIRGs. And The PIRGs are … P-I-R-G. It was Public Interest Research Group. Sort of a consumer—sort of a spinoff of a Ralph Nader sort of a consumer group. And what it did was, it was a political action group that went and lobbied for clean air, clean water, pesticides, things of that nature.

 

And then, what?

 

Then the summer was over. And I was looking for where I was gonna go next. I was living at home, and I thought Northern California would be a nice place to go live, and I made contact with a buddy of mine from NC State who had been in Hawaii for a few years already. And he suggested that I come to Hawaii.

 

Belgium, Cleveland, Georgia, Germany, North Carolina, California, and now, Hawaii. Sean Priester had seen much of the world. He could have settled anywhere. Fortunately for us, he came here.

 

So when you got here, did your buddy give you some advice about living in Hawaii? Did he give you the lay of the land, tell you what you should know?

 

Well, it was my friend Todd from college, and he gave me enough information to sort of get me settled and give me time to acclimate to Hawaii. I’d say that the larger growth came from a guy named William, William Cineza. We worked together at Sunset Grill. Born and raised in Wahiawa, local boy, and he really just, you know, took me under his wing, this new guy from wherever, from all over, from all over, and he told me the ways of Hawaii.

 

So, what were the ways that he applied to you?

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, basically, he just taught me about—and it’s stuff that I knew from my own sort of travels, but just respecting the community, not judging the community.

 

Then, you moved to the Laniakea YWCA on Richards Street, the Wild Mushroom.

 

That was the birth of the Wild Mushroom. Yeah. I worked at this restaurant called the Fresh Market in Manoa, and that was that was a spinoff of that. The Fresh Market closed down, and then we reopened in YWCA. And when the proprietor left, Matt Lau left the Fresh Market at the YWCA, my thoughts were, you know, it was my food all along, and I should continue this on. And the Wild Mushroom became successful in a lot of ways. I’d worked for the Café Laniakea as well, as a general manager during the week, running their operations. And so, there just came a time when I needed to choose, so I chose the Wild Mushroom to continue to nurture and pursue. And when I did that, I started creating a business plan and things of that nature. And so I left the Y, and shortly thereafter, I ended up with an organization called Steadfast Housing, another nonprofit, who provided housing to people with mental illness and other things as well. And they actually had a grant to work with the State Hospital and create this little café that we actually opened it up, and it provided vocational rehabilitation for people with mental illness who had received treatment. And we had this beautiful little spot where we were serving most of the staff, and sometimes some of the patients. And there was a beautiful sort of synergy between my desire to teach and to sort of share my knowledge, and operate a business.

 

But didn’t stay?

 

I think I put in four years, and that seems like a long time in restaurant years. And I’d taken my staff to Tastes of Honolulu, which was a huge accomplishment for a community that a lot of stigma attached to it, and we performed well there. So, I had accomplished a lot in that realm. And what it came down to at the time when I left was, Top of Waikiki presented itself as an opportunity. A friend of mine was working there, and suggested I pursue that. And I was sort of at this—I’d worked for nonprofits for almost eight years, and I wanted to put myself in a position where I was accountable for the fiscal success of a restaurant. Top of Waikiki was one of those showcase restaurants. It had a lot of wow factor to it. My thoughts were, going to the Top of Waikiki turn it around, show my street credibility, show my ability to manage the resources, and then, take that education and pursue.

 

So, what job did you accept there?

 

Executive chef.

 

And so, you’re the top guy deciding what food should be served? Did you change the whole menu?

 

I did. I did. The Mau’s were very generous in allowing me to create autonomy in that respect. I really found that the best way for me to work is to speak with my own voice, and within whatever parameters I’m working in. And in order to just be committed to what I was doing, I needed the opportunity to sort of put my heart into it. And they allowed me to. Slowly, but surely, we peeled away the menu and started adding some of the things that reflected my culinary sensibilities and that the tourist community would find appealing. Ultimately, though, it was about the locals for me. My goal was to bring respect to the Top of Waikiki, and bring integrity to the menu, and be looked upon by our peers with some respect as well.

 

How did you execute?

 

I can tell you, within the first year, I cried a couple of times, and there were, clashes with management, clashes with staff. However, we were able to eventually, everybody got onboard, and we were able to take the ideas, and values, and vision that I had, and create something that was pretty fantastic, and I think, unique as well. So we made it happen.

 

Chef Sean Priester was on a roll. Under his guidance, the menu at Top of Waikiki had a nostalgic influence combined with fresh local ingredients. He also brought an environmental consciousness to the restaurant. Top of Waikiki was beginning to get the kinds of reviews that most chefs crave. Then, he left.

 

And then?

 

[CHUCKLE] And then, I ended up with a lunch wagon. The day after I left the Top of Waikiki, I was on the street.

 

So, why would you go from the Top of Waikiki to a street truck?

 

[CHUCKLE] Really, it just came down to, I’ve always wanted to move forward. I’m always looking for the next sort of challenge for me, what’s gonna be my creative motivation. It really just came down to I’d started to get more into the expression of my own, like I said, my own self. And I started going to markets and marketing this vegetarian black-eyed pea chili that I was doing, and I guess I’d done all these culinary sort of tests, where I’ve gotten to work with the best products, from Kobe beef and foie gras, and I’ve been in environments where I’ve gotten to cook and have Alan Wong taste my food, or Padovani. So there was a lot of validation that already had occurred at this point in my career. For me, the next thing was just to go and actually touch upon something that I’d been avoiding most of my career, which was my background. My family’s background is from the South, and I really just wanted to explore that and see, now that I’d done all these things that I felt like I needed to do be a chef, I was gonna go ahead and explore these things. So, through that process, there was a change of direction. I ended up with a lunch truck, and I wanted to explore that. And I was doing—

 

It’s very hard work, isn’t it? I mean, don’t you have to get up really early in the morning, and …

 

How’d you know that?

 

And the profit margin is thin.

 

Yeah. Yeah, it was all that. It was a surprise to me how invested you needed to be on a day-to-day basis in order to make things work on a lunch wagon. Yeah. And it was totally 5:00 a.m. for produce and the next two hours for prep, do the truck, clean it up, and go pick up your product for the next day. And, yeah, it was quite a learning experience for me to do that. Yeah, the Soul Patrol was just born out of my desire to see where, again, where my culinary exploration was gonna go next. And that romance with lunch wagon that I didn’t know about, that we know is different now, my perspective on it now, I just wanted to explore that as well.

 

So, now you have a truck. How do you decide what you’re gonna serve in your truck?

 

Pretty early on, like I so this black-eyed pea vegetarian chili. And—

 

That sounds great.

 

It’s delicious. And we also do a cornbread that we serve with honey butter that’s been the core of the Soul Patrol’s existence. And after that, we bring as much as the market will bear. I mean, I bring a representation of Southern cuisine, so I’ll do a pulled pork or Carolina pulled pork sandwich, or I call it Carolina Pulled Pork Adobo Sandwich. And I do ribs, and chicken gumbo, and fried chicken. And so, what I’m really doing is just representing sort of the Southern regional cuisine that I’m familiar with.

 

When you talk about food, it’s almost like you’re talking about values. You use words like honest and integrity.

 

Well, I mean, those are personal values that have challenged me, and that I think are important to society, and I think are important to how I leave the Earth, and how I represent myself to my kids. I’ve said before that cooking is my vocation, and it’s been my way of expressing myself.

 

Your life is difficult. One, it’s hard to operate a business. Two, restaurants are a notoriously short-lived business proposition in general. And three, you give your food away, what, twice a month. I mean, so you’re trying to make a profit with a young restaurant operation, and what do you do? Some of the time, you give it away. What’s that about?

 

I built a relationship with a guy named Utu Langi, and through meeting him and seeing what a generous spirit he has been, I was given the opportunity when I got the lunch wagon to go and feed the homeless. And because of my commitment to Utu and the values that he represents, I’m compelled to do that, to give a little bit as much as he does to the community. So, twice a month, the Soul Patrol goes to the Next Step Shelter, and we create this wonderful—I think it’s a wonderful breakfast. And I go get fresh berries, my volunteer team are whipping up whipped cream and we make fresh pancakes.

 

And these are kids who often eat canned food.

 

I’m not sure where they’re eating. I mean, they leave the shelter at a certain time. I’m not sure; maybe they’re getting their breakfast at school, or some other way. But I can only imagine that they’re not getting quite what we’re preparing for them. And it’s awesome to see these little kids, being little kids. ‘Cause, they’re not very much interested in the community service that we’re doing, they’re just running around the truck, and playing with each other, and things of that nature. But it helps, the parents and, you know, get them off to a good start of their day, and people going to their jobs and going to interviews. And again, it’s just my way of doing what I can. Food is powerful, so …

 

How many breakfasts do you serve on an average when you go to Next Step twice a month?

 

Well, I mean, their shelter is limited to a little over two hundred, so we’re flipping about two hundred pancakes, about five in the morning, and shuttling up there, and serving ‘em coffee, and juice, and like I said, turkey sausage and things of that nature. So, yeah, it’s two hundred, two hundred a visit. It’s a cool thing.

 

These days, even large corporations have difficulty supporting charitable causes. For a small businessman, especially a restaurant owner like Sean Priester, donating resources and time on a regular basis can only be described as challenging.

 

What does your family say about your contributions, all the things you do that don’t go to profit in a financial sense.

 

My young son is pretty resonant on what I do for the community. And you can just tell by his comments that he’s aware that having two kids and needing to get them to school on certain mornings, going out to feed the homeless doesn’t really support that process. My wife’s been really supportive of that as well. You can ask my mom anything, and she’ll be proud of me. So the family is like I said, you know, I’m conscious of a legacy that I have to leave, and …

 

How long have you been thinking about legacy? ‘Cause you seem young to be thinking about it.

 

It’s probably in the past few years. I really took some time to take some personal growth courses that really supported looking at the way that I responded to situations in my life, and how I viewed them as well, and looking at honesty and integrity, and things of those nature. So …

 

Did you have a problem with honesty before?

 

Yeah. I mean, honesty means you’re exposing yourself. Right? And you’re exposing yourself to rejection, and you’re exposing yourself to getting hurt in certain ways. I mean, a lot of that goes back to me, a lot of that was, before sobriety. A lot of that is hidden behind why I drank, and why I did drugs. So—

 

Okay; I missed that part. So when was that?

 

Well, sobriety happened ’96 for me. And so—

 

So how long have you had a drinking problem?

 

Oh, probably when I got to college, when I didn’t have the parents looking over my shoulder. I mean, I don’t know, if we called it a problem then, but I can’t say that I was being terribly responsible at the time.

 

But you worked, and it wasn’t a …

 

Yeah, I worked. I pursued my schooling, I got to Hawaii, worked quite a few jobs before I got sober. That kinda stuff. But all that was just, an exercise in me not being able to be open or confront feelings, or being completely honest with myself as well. So honesty and integrity has become huge, since becoming sober. ‘Cause you get sober, and all that’s still there.

 

What made you decide, all right, enough of this lifestyle, I’m changing?

 

I was sitting at the bar, drinking a beer at like, nine in the morning or something. And I kept a journal and a diary this whole time, too, and wrote down my thoughts and what was challenging me, what my turmoil was. Ultimately, I just said, if I don’t do something about this, then I just want to die. I just want to get out of this. And what the dying part was, when they look at my tombstone, they’re gonna say, Sean Priester died an alcoholic and a drug addict. And I said, this is not the way my dad and mom raised me. As a Priester, my last name, this is not how I want to go out. And it really came down to owning up to that realization, owning up to and respecting the fact that Mom and Dad raised somebody who was more responsible than that. And I made a call to detox that same day, and had a cab take me over, and got the detox and went to a class. And they said, over fifty percent of you aren’t gonna make it through this or stay sober. Well, that was all they needed to tell me.

 

Just challenge you, and you’re up for it.

 

Exactly. So, I believe my destiny was to be in this position. And again, as being an example, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And like you said, there’s a lot of uncertainty in what I’m doing as well. And I wanted my kid to see that, you know, you gotta follow your heart, you gotta follow your passion, you gotta—

 

And face your fears.

 

And face your fears. And the results are gonna be good either way, ‘cause I did it.

 

The next time you sit down to a meal, you might want to think how that meal represents more than just food. It’s about family, friends, community. For Chef Sean Priester of Soul Café, every meal he serves is a reflection of his upbringing, his dedication to helping his community, and his day-by-day challenge to conquer his fears. For Long Story Short, and 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.

 

Well, when it comes to legacy, I want to leave here, with people having a knowledge that, I did everything that I could to be a good family man, to run a fair business, and I served the community well. So another good day of service. Just served our two hundred. [CHUCKLE]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
William S. Richardson

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: William S. Richardson

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 6, 2009

 

Former Hawaii Chief Justice

 

William S. Richardson recalls growing up in a house his dad built along a dirt lane in Kaimuki. When the family moved there from Palama, they had so few possessions they simply took what they had on a streetcar. Those were simpler times for the man who would go on to be Lt. Governor (under John A. Burns), Chief Justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court and Bishop Estate Trustee.

 

Popularly known as CJ, for Chief Justice, William Richardson is also the man for whom the law school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is named. CJ Richardson joins Leslie Wilcox for an engaging conversation on Long Story Short.

 

William S. Richardson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Throughout the Hawaiian islands, we can all enjoy the beautiful beaches because they belong to the State, not private landowners.   No one can “own” our shorelines. Same goes for new lands created by volcanic activity. They belong to the state, to us all, not nearby property owners. These are concepts we might take for granted today; but it wasn’t always the case. They are two of the important rulings–laws of the land–that were handed down by the Hawaii State Supreme Court … led by a public school grad from Kaimuki. A conversation with Chief Justice, Retired, William S. Richardson, next.

 

OPEN / SONY

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. Today we get to chat with William S. Richardson, who served as Hawaii State Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1966 to 1982. He also served as Lieutenant Governor, under John A. Burns, a trustee of the old Bishop Estate, and he was chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party when Democrats surged to legislative power in 1954. And he’s the namesake of the state’s only law school. Popularly known as “CJ”, for Chief Justice, William Richardson was raised in a working-class family in Kaimuki.

 

When you say you grew up in Kaimuki, it’s not the Kaimuki that people here think of, is it?

 

No; it was a Kaimuki that for me, I had to walk through the lanes from Waialae Avenue, about three blocks, going toward Waikiki, through a lane to my house. My father built the house himself.

 

No streetlights and—

 

No streetlights.

 

—sidewalks?

 

Only a lane; we could only walk in a lane.

 

A dirt lane?

 

A dirt lane. We had no car yet.

 

And you moved to Kaimuki, which was country, after living in the city, Palama.

 

Yes. I don’t know whether we had very much. But we went by streetcar, and much of the time, we just caught the streetcar and carried whatever you owned on your back. And how far did the streetcar go? Well, at one time, to 6th Avenue, another time to 12th Avenue, and then next time, all the way down to Waialae Country Club, Kealaolu.

 

That was electric trolley, right?

 

Yes; yes. With the hook up above.

 

So it was the mass transit of yesteryear.

 

Well, you could call it that; yes, you could.

 

[chuckle] And one of your classmates was someone who also became very well known in Hawaii, an accomplished Isabella Aiona Abbott.

 

Oh, yes. She lived about three blocks away from me. She was one of the brains of the school.

 

[chuckle] She was the first native Hawaiian woman to get a PhD in science.

 

Yeah; and from Stanford, was it? Oh, yes; she’s a bright girl.

 

Well, talking about brains of the school; were you one of them?

 

Oh, no.

 

You sure?

 

Oh, yes, I’m sure of that. I mean, I got along; that was it.

 

When you finished high school, you went on to college. Was that a big thing in your family?

 

Yes, it was. Not many boys went on to college. And I think some people felt it was time for one to start working at sixteen or seventeen, and college was just out of the ordinary.

 

Why did you go? What was the impetus?

 

I think my father felt that I better get up there. And I think he had visions of my going to the University, but I didn’t have that vision yet. [chuckle]

 

Were you ambitious?

 

Not that I know of.

 

But you went ahead and went through four years at UH.

 

I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.

 

Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics and—

 

Yes.

 

—good friends in—

 

Good friends—

 

—a long life.

 

They helped me in everything I’ve done.

 

So you went to UH. And—

 

Yes.

 

—you had more than most people of your time had; a college degree. But that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.

 

Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company. And I thought, well, this would be great; I like this kind of work. I think I’ll do this the rest of my life. And then one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and she said, Now, this boy better go on to law school. And I said, Well, how can you do that, Dad; you can’t afford it. Well he said, You know, if you really gotta go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college. Which he did. In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.

 

When you were at the University of Cincinnati Law School, that was a different time racially. You’re Hawaiian, Chinese, Caucasian; what did people make of you? Where did you fit in?

 

Well, I suppose I fit in all right, but when the war came on, there was some stigma. Anybody different from the haole kids that were around, he was different.

 

Did people think you were Japanese at the—

 

I think many—

 

—at wartime?

 

I think many did after the war started, because they just didn’t know.

 

Do you remember getting exposed to overt racism?

 

Yes, but it was never so bad that I’d feel afraid to be around. And most of them knew that I was of draft age anyway, and that I wouldn’t be around very long, and draft would get me, and that would be the end of that.

 

And indeed, you went on to infantry training?

 

Yes; I went—those days, it was all Army, and I started with the Army air corps, and then I went to Fort Benning, Georgia in the infantry school for the Army. And from there on, I went on to the West Coast, and then to New Guinea, and then to the Philippines. I spent most of my time, Army time there in the Philippines.

 

Did that experience change your life in any way, being in the war?

 

I wouldn’t say that it did. I just took everything as it went along. I was draftable. Either go in as a foot soldier, or an officer, and that was it.

 

Is it true that when you went back to normal life, that you didn’t have to take the bar exam right after the war?

 

Well, that’s true, because they when I came back, it was an LLB, which was a little different from the JD today. And they said, Well, we’ll just send you your JD degree; and that’s it.

 

And so no hours and days, and weeks, and months of studying for the bar?

 

No; no. No; didn’t have to do that at all. I went into the Reserves, and they stuck me into the Judge Advocate General’s department, and there, I stayed until I retired from the Army. Which wasn’t very long. [chuckle]

 

Following the war, William Richardson began working as a lawyer and married his childhood sweetheart, Amy Ching. The two raised three children. In the mid-1950s, Richardson emerged as a leader on the islands’ political scene, working closely with those friends he got to know while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 

You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that—re-crafted government in the wake of statehood. And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009. Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.

 

Well to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live and have their new laws gibe with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase, where the French came in, and we had—the country had to adjust to that. And now we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states, and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

 

Part of what is now, is based on the Great Mahele, King Kamehameha III. And that was considered a distribution—it was a distribution of land. Do you think that was …

 

 

Well, I—

 

—pono?

 

I think it’s pono. I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed. That our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living. And Hawaii should revive what we could of the good parts. And I have to say almost all of it were good parts.

 

Is there a part of you that identifies with, say, the sovereignty activists or the people who say we let people take our land, or they took it from us, we need it back, we need to—we need better restitution?

 

Well, we have to use the American system, and the Hawaiian system, and we must find a solution to make it so that we’re not just coming up against each other without trying to resolve them in what we would consider a modern way of doing it. I don’t mean to say that we should reject any of the old ways, nor reject the new ways; but that’s for this court now, and their wise people that are—

 

M-m. Is one of the solutions a separate Hawaiian nation?

 

Oh, I don’t think we could go back to being a separate Hawaiian nation. I want to take the good parts of it; but no, I can’t go back to the old way. We’re a different nation today, and we’re living under a flag that we all love today.

 

Part-Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian, William Richardson has been credited with looking back to old Hawaii for new wisdom. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court gave the public access to Hawaii’s shorelines, and ruled that precious water and new lands created by lava flows belong to the State—decisions reflecting Richardson’s desire to incorporate Hawaiian customs as guiding principles within our legal system.

 

Your court was known as an activist court. You helped expand native Hawaiian rights. What are some of the things you are most proud of?

 

Well, I think I had a chance to—well, let me start this way. The previous Chief Justice was the first, and he had been ill for a long time. And so some of the big decisions that did not depend on rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court were held back. So some of the cases may be ten years old, and just weren’t taken up, because of his illness, and maybe because of the newness of the State, that some of the cases that were the real important ones were being set aside. Perhaps because the U.S. Supreme Court had coming out—had been coming out with a lot of the criminal cases. So in those cases, Hawaii merely followed suit. If the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a certain way, then we had to go along, of course. But then there were other cases peculiar of Hawaii; water, beaches, plantation differences, general growth of Hawaii that might be unique of Hawaii.

 

You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often you would look back at—to see what ali‘i from the monarchy days did.

 

Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawaii, and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.

 

For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?

 

Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawaii. Without our beaches, there was no Hawaii to speak of, the Hawaii that we loved.

 

Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property, right?

 

Yes. And it seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.

 

It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.

 

It does, and I go swimming too. And I know I can go up to a certain spot, and this is public property. And my friends and I can use it.

 

And that wasn’t the only big one you did. There were the rights of citizens to challenge land court decisions, native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property.

 

Well—

 

Water.

 

Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law. But I had a good court, and they were willing and able to go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I had traveled around the islands a lot, and you’re speaking now perhaps of water rights, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have—they both needed water. But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be. The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose. But the people who really needed the water were those in the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and rice patch owners. They’re the ones that needed the water. And so it seemed simple to me to just say, Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water, it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.

 

It’s elegantly simple. And the dean of the law school, which is named after you. Avi Soifer said, Imagine very complicated filings going on for years, big battle; and you said, Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.

 

M-m. Well we were a new state, not used to following, just being a follower. We needed to decide for ourselves what was best for our people. And that’s how that one came out.

 

You took some heat over that, but—

 

I did.

 

—it became, a symbol of enlightenment, that people said, Here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.

 

Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. [chuckle] And I thought it was right. There was never any question in my own mind.

 

William S. Richardson says that, as Lieutenant Governor, he never asked or lobbied for the Chief Justice job with his boss, Governor Burns. But his wife Amy had something to say when the Governor picked up the phone and asked her about the prospect.

 

When he said, What’s this I hear about your husband being the Chief Justice? And he was silent after that; she gave him the works on that. She didn’t want me in politics anymore, and I’m sure she said to him, That would be great, he’d be out of politics if he got in as Chief Justice.

 

Not so fast. Richardson moved directly from the Lieutenant Governor’s office into leadership of the state’s highest court. Critics would say that, as head of the Judiciary, Richardson never did shake off his political ties, remaining close to the Governor and other politicians and power brokers in town. His term as Chief Justice would end with his own court selecting him for a political plum-trustee of the powerful and wealthy old Bishop Estate.

 

You know, I gotta mention one decision that your Supreme Court made, that was criticized, and that you were a part of. You were this very popular Chief Justice, who was retiring, and your court appointed you a Bishop Estate trustee. In fact, you took office a couple days after you left the CJ position. And we saw what happened with the Bishop Estate; there was this very close relationship with the Judiciary, with this private nonprofit. As you look back on those days, what do you think?

 

You mean, of the relationship between the Bishop Estate …

 

And the—

 

—and the court?

 

—Supreme Court.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, do you think the Supreme Court had any business, really, picking Bishop Estate trustees?

 

Well, I think they should, because the Supreme Court seemed to be the best arbiter.

 

M-hm. And they gave you a term that was longer than the previously mandated term; you got to serve past seventy, which was the retirement age then.

 

Well, yeah; the State retirement is seventy. But that doesn’t mean that you had to follow that. I mean, seventy is an arbitrary figure, in a way.

 

You got very involved in the Democratic Revolution of 1954, played a key role and became Hawaii Democratic Party Chair. But I’ve heard you refer to yourself as the token Hawaiian among that core group.

 

[chuckle]

 

Was that a joke, or were you serious?

 

I don’t know whether or not—perhaps I was token Hawaiian. But that’s not altogether true. There were other Hawaiians that were in leadership roles. I can’t remember all the names now. But it was a great group that was led by Governor Burns, who was firstly, a nobody to speak of, but he had been a police captain, and wanted to organize the party. And we met every Friday for lunch. And when the boys that went off to law school after the war came back, well, Governor Burns and I went and picked them up, and got them interested in the Democratic Party. And before we knew it, we had enough to take over the Democratic Party, and in the end I suppose the governorship and …

 

And you became Lieutenant Governor.

 

Yes; and from that, I guess he catapulted me into the chief justiceship, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

I notice you’re always ending up in these leadership or achievement positions, and you always say, I don’t know how that happened, I just kinda went along.

 

Well, that’s what happened; I went along. [chuckle] I mean, I enjoyed the work, and I didn’t mind being in the minority party at that time. I thought I was doing some good, and I thought I was doing something that would have a lasting effect.

 

I thought I was doing something that might improve the well being of all of the people of my age in Hawaii. And I think it turned out that way—that I thought I could help.

 

You’ve told me that your favorite job in the world has been CJ. What do you see as your legacy in that position? Clearly, your court made a number of benchmark rulings, but what do you think is the most important?

 

Well, I think I did the best I could to get the old Hawaiian way into—merged in with the American and the common law system of the past. The beaches, of course, I’m proud of that. And handling cases that involved volcanic action, that no place else in our country we’ve had.

 

Now there’s a law school named for you; the only law school in Hawaii is named after you.

 

Well, I must say I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of it because it means that some people that wouldn’t have had a chance to go to law school now have that opportunity.

 

At age 89 as I speak, the CJ is a regular at the William S. Richardson School of Law where he has an office and enjoys talking with the students. He says they don’t argue with him, but he respects different ideas—and anyway, it’s their future to shape now.

 

Mahalo to CJ Richardson for sharing stories with us on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.

 

My wife lived on the same street, as a matter of fact. [chuckle]

 

I heard a story she used to tell about meeting you. I recall her saying that she met you when she was watering the yard, and you were walking by from the—

 

Yes; she’d either be watering the yard or playing the piano. And she told people, Go water your yard, you never know what might happen. [chuckle] She did say that, jokingly.

 

So childhood sweethearts.

 

I suppose you could put it that way. She was a neighbor, two blocks away. But she went to that other school. She went to Punahou, and I went to Roosevelt.